I baptize myself each day. I wake up with dreams stuck in my mind and walk to the bathroom. Thin morning light streams in from the skylight above. A bright bathroom surrounds me, with bright walls and bright floors, and a long, all-encompassing mirror. I open the skylight, pass under its new and fresh air, and step close the bathtub. I bend over to flood the white bathtub with clean water. And I step in the water, and wait. I prepare myself to be renewed, to bury yesterday’s past, to erase the dreams inside my head, and submerge. I’m seeing, completely clear-eyed and clean, a warped and waving world—an invisible fabric.

            When I think about baptism, my mind stumbles into a chapped, dry wilderness. I think of Spanish conquistadors marching through golden steppe lands, parched and exhausted, on what was called “the Journey of Death.” Travelling from southern Chihuahua in Mexico, Don Juan de Oñate and his crew sought to establish missions up north, in what would become New Mexico. It was a place known to lack riches—the Spanish had ignored the Pueblo lands for the past fifty years because they thought them to be impoverished—so the quest was, ideologically, one of civilization and faith. Yet, the journey to extend salvation had almost killed them just before they reached the border of New Mexico. In the town of Socorro, with Spanish livestock dying and the people starving, the Piro Pueblo people appeared and offered the Spanish corn and water. The Spanish, of course, were revived—on the verge of death, indigenous water became the Spaniards’ life.

            I imagine that I am, in fact, waking up in these same lands. I walk out of a cool adobe house, hiding in a deep blue shade that borders the edge of the village. The orange and bright sun warms the left side of my face as I gaze south. I am watching a long and thin horizon, the same horizon I see each day, waver. Slowly the horizon comes closer; it grows. The line that defined the border of my own world, the boundary-marker of the men and gods has come close, until an indistinguishable mass of over several thousand forms approaches; an intimation of death. Hospitality is on my mind; I tell the others to prepare meals. My people will be remembered for their help.

         The Spanish continued north and established Santa Fe in New Mexico, baptizing people into this new kingdom at-hand. They brought new livestock and new crops (grapes!) and new horses. Spaniards bore progress on their backs and faith in their hearts, built missions, and created an economy that robbed the Pueblo people of their land and autonomy. And, even more, Spanish cattle overgrazed the land and water seeped into the ground; indigenous water disappeared.

I imagine that I may have helped build one of these missions, in Santa Fe. On a hill, it served as a military outpost, to protect us from the other warring tribes, and it was intended to match the materials of our own village, in order to blend in. I’m baptized in a river nearby, a river soon dissolving to dust, into a belief in the God beyond our gods. I submerge and wash off my freedom, I rise, clean, enslaved into eternal life.

            The Spanish had tried to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth, with an often indistinguishable mix of civil and religious authority. The Pueblo people watched how this kingdom treated its people. They watched the Spanish rape the indigenous women during their first contact with the Spanish. They watched the Spanish whip and imprison indigenous people for disobedience of new and foreign laws. They watched the Spanish slaughter the indigenous people for resisting enslavement. They watched the Spanish hang thirty-eight Pueblo leaders. They, most of all, watched the indifference to human suffering in the name of production, labor, and service to the Kingdom of God. Bless their tired eyes: the Pueblo people were now parched and exhausted from the Spaniards’ attempts to force religion and economic slavery upon the indigenous way of life.
            Of course the Pueblo people revolted! Any reasonable people would revolt! They got fed up. I’d get fed up too! They revolted in the name of their gods, and cut off their limited water supply to the Spanish. Those who once saved by indigenous water were driven back to dry lands, out of the villages, and down south. Back to the journey of death, the Spanish retreated. The Pueblo people (this is the interesting part!) de-baptized themselves.
            According to Catholic doctrine, de-baptism is impossible, but the Pueblo people did it anyway. They waded into the water to wash off their Christian baptism, using yucca as a soap, removing whatever Christian “character” they had adopted from the colonists. They wanted to wash their baptism off their skin, as if it were dirty, something superficial and gross. Christianity robbed them of peace, justice, and dignity by disrupting their social fabric and imprisoning their people. And so, they essentially performed a baptism ritual to unbaptize themselves. It’s like a ritualized via negativa—God is not wholly in baptism.

            As part of the Baptismal Covenant in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, used by the Episcopal Church, the priest asks the congregation, “will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Each individual answers, “I will, with God’s help.”

             These days, you can get a certificate for your de-baptism. The Freedom from Religion Foundation—home of the “freethinkers”—gives it to those who want to renounce their religious (really, conservative Christian) background. They quote the 19th century freethinker, Robert G. Ingersoll, “With soap, baptism is a good thing,” suggesting that becoming a permanent part of the Christian community is, in fact, a mistake. Here’s why: the foundation opposes the theology of original sin as a premise for baptism. Original sin, they believe, “tarnishes” newborns with the belief that they are intrinsically and (without divine intervention) irredeemably bad.
            There is legitimacy to their concerns. As a potential consequence to the original sin theology, children who do not believe in their own essential goodness will normalize their own maltreatment. Children who view themselves negatively are more likely to perceive abuse and neglect as their lot; if unchallenged, this belief will stick with children for life. These people can grow to become toxic to themselves and those around them if they never believe in their own intrinsic value—that they are wholly loved, or maybe made in the image of God. So the freethinkers oppose this theology of original sin, because they see that its fruits are grown from the tree of despair. Their certificate of de-baptism, though theoretically impossible in the eyes of the church, is a symbol for the redemption of children.
            Jesus says “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
            Although many in this freethinking atheist group believe that baptism is primitively ritualistic, others have developed their own rituals, complete with priests and de-sacraments. As an extension of a community potluck in the park, the atheists will blast you in the face with the “Hairdryer of Reason” in order to renounce “superstition.” To celebrate, they partake in a de-sacrament of crackers and peanut-butter: a child’s afternoon snack. The potluck began as a lighthearted parody, but evolved into a formalized critique of institutionalized oppression within the church. In response, the church viewed it as primitively ritualistic, labelling it as “immature.” But for many, the blessed Hairdryer of Reason became a way to embody a commitment that was merely declared in a certificate. De-baptism was a ritual that enacted their call to justice and compassion. It actualized a renunciation of an institution: an institution that, while claiming its own purity and cleanliness, held the potential to deeply wound its members while blindly ensuring an abstractly theological salvation.
            Jesus put dirt in the eyes of a blind man; that seemed to work pretty well.

            So, to get to the point, we’re talking about the about the ways in which people participate in their conceptualizations of reality. There are some who trade an empathetic and direct engagement with the world around them for a life lived behind their ideologies. They create or adopt, in our case, large theologies and conceptions of Truth in order to hide from primal fears, or the really real, or the ultimate ground of being, or even God. And they do everything they can to uphold this Truth—they rationalize it, they create theologies, they create “woke” ideologies, they create communities that actualize their conception of Truth. The life on the tracks of their conceptions is the life they proclaim and the life that restores them.
We all are caught up in this type of living—behind our conceptions of how the world is. There’s really no escape from it. Our minds run on these conceptual tracks as long as we live, and we’d die without them. Yet, when we become complacent in our achievement of the Truth, the limits of our honest engagement with the world become increasingly demarcated by these tracks.
            The Spanish Catholics limited their empathetic engagement world by using their theologies and civilizing ideologies as a justification for enslavement and abuse of indigenous Pueblo people. For them, salvation was the ultimate goal that allowed them to shut their eyes to the condition of their neighbors. Likewise, the freethinking atheists noticed how original sin, a premise for salvation, allowed church members to blind themselves to the implications of their theology. People blind themselves because they convince themselves that truth is truth, even if it bears bad fruit. De-baptism signifies that these conceptions of truth must be killed—that the true God beyond the gods is not represented by the actions or beliefs of God’s people.
Strangely, the church, too, has a ritual for this. Saint Paul, in his letter to Roman church indicates that baptism is a performance of death. Literal death from baptism strikes me as incredibly rare, so I interpret this as a spiritual death—one that calls us to put our conceptions of the world to rest. Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun, tells me that a death like this, though terrifying, is necessary for new life; I believe that a death like this is necessary for a perpetually renewed life. Baptism and de-baptism both, whether with soap, with peanut-butter crackers, or with legitimate priests, submerge us in an embodied journey of death, where our worldviews no longer limit the compassion we extend to one another. Instead, we are thrown into the immediacy of a truly eternal life, with the ability to see the world and those around us as they directly present themselves to us.
And so I emerge from the water, beyond the invisible fabric; it is no ritual.

Notes and Sources:
            Because this is a literary piece, and not a research or academic article, I’ve refrained from dropping citations in the text itself. Most of the claims I make can be hotly contested if they’re not backed up by references, so, I’ll give you a list of the things I used to make this:

Paul Horgan’s Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History.
Joe S. Sando’s Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Clearly, the Bible; the NRSV.
Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, pp. 129,130, but also that whole section.
Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
Also, for more, Martin Buber's I and Thou.
You can probably google more about the freethinkers and their hairdryers; I used a couple articles that I found from the front page of google and *maybe* wikipedia references