Let’s Talk about Baptism
Generally speaking, I try to avoid talking about religion or politics. While I sometimes talk politics with my family, in all other company, I try to stay mum. Those two issues are too personal—and hotly contested—to bring up.
Perhaps that’s why one aspect of becoming a parent has taken me a bit by surprise: the discussions about religion. From unprompted comments about circumcision (and several questions about my own junk!) to questions about our plans for baptism, these aren’t easy conversations to have, especially since my family is religious and my wife and I are not.
It is difficult to write about this when my family (and close friends) are involved, so let me state something outright: I offer this as an explanation of my (and my wife’s) beliefs, not as an attack on anyone else’s. I certainly do not question anyone’s motives; I have the kindest, most loving family one could imagine. They sincerely believe that baptism would be the best choice for our baby boy.
Nevertheless, my wife and I don’t plan on having our baby baptized for a few reasons. Here’s why:
Most importantly, faith, at its core, is a personal choice; given that Oliver doesn’t have the capacity to make that choice yet, we don’t feel it’s fair to make that choice for him.
(While I’m not a Christian, if I were, I’d certainly agree with the Baptists that one should be baptized later in life, when one is capable of making the choice for oneself.)
By way of comparison, imagine if the subject were politics, not religion. If I were to walk up to a new mother and tell her, “Your child should have my political beliefs,” she’d probably take a swing at me with a diaper bag.
Similarly, if we plastered our child in Obama 2012 buttons, that would likely be viewed as repugnant, and I’d agree. The reason should be clear: A child, let alone an infant, doesn’t have the capacity to decide their political affiliations; it’s something one has to develop and decide for oneself. And that’s a slow process; there’s a reason we don’t let children make important decisions for themselves until their late teens/early twenties: they simply aren’t ready to do so.
My wife and I argue that choosing one’s religion is no different.
There’s another reason that my wife and I are hesitant to baptize our child: in many baptisms/dedication ceremonies, the participation of the parents (and godparents) is as important as the infant’s. The parents have to publicly pledge their belief in the faith during the ceremony. While we have no problem with Oliver eventually following a faith, my wife and I simply do not follow one. So to have Ollie baptized or dedicated, we’d likely have to lie. Lying seems a strange way to ensure the salvation of our son’s eternal soul.
The Question of Risk
There’s a larger question underlying this entire discussion, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here: the question of risk.
When Kayli and I are asked if we’re going to baptize Oliver and we say no, the next question is often “Why risk it?”
Of course, that risk stems form Original Sin. Long story short: Most (if not all) Christians agree that everyone, including our little guy, is inherently sinful due to the Fall of Man. Because Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all humans must suffer disease, hardship, childbirth, and eventually, death (and possible eternal perdition).
Adherents therefore believe that everyone is “tainted” in a sense, and baptism is required soon after birth to wash away that Original Sin. Without it, even babies could be sent to hell (or at the best, Purgatory).
But that’s the thing: I don’t believe an all-loving God would send a child to hell. That would be the antithesis of justice: babies aren’t sinful, so there is likely nothing to risk for Oliver.
Note that I used the word likely there; yes, it is possible that we are incorrect. But (as I’m finding out) parenting is all about risk assessment. There are innumerable possible threats out there that could hurt Ollie—brain-eating amoebas, killer meteorites, the return of disco—but my wife and I can only focus on those that are most likely.
An all-loving God sentencing an infant to eternal hellfire simply doesn’t seem likely.
Yes, there may be risk for me and my wife (I’ll save that entire debate for another post), but by the time Oliver is old enough to be at risk of mortal sin, he’ll have the opportunity to make his own choice. Until then, we’ll read to him from the holy books of all the religions, we’ll love him, and all the while, we’ll try to raise him as well as our parents raised us.