A garden variety therapist will tell you, the earliest messages absorbed are often the most powerful. Having gone through 12 years of Catholic school, it follows that my most powerful messages revolve around avoiding Hell. I was preoccupied as a child with the rather significant difference between white lies and worse offenses. “That dress looks nice” might be a non-truth, but in response to someone asking about their fashion, it appeared that Saint Peter would let it go as an infraction.
One of our earliest lessons, at least that I can remember, was the proclamation that if the world ended tomorrow, all of us Catholic kids would be okay because we’d been baptized. This was obviously a step up from getting corralled with the thieves and unrepentant pillagers of the earth, but it caused me to worry about all of the poor innocent babes who’d never crossed paths with a squirt of holy water and a proxy refusal to follow Satan.
So now that the birth of our baby is pretty much imminent, guess which dusty messages have crawled out of my memory’s woodwork?
My intellectual self understands baptism simply as a rite, a chance for the community for come together to celebrate and make a commitment to look out for our newest generation, much like weddings do for couples. I quite like the idea of witnessing and supporting the milestones in one another’s lives, though I could do without the judgmental if-you-don’t-do-it-you’re-defective nonsense that often comes along with these rituals. This secular attitude is clearly at odds with my irrational side, because hello, what if the Pope of my youth (don’t even get me started about Ratzenberger) was right?
Even in my own history, I’ve been baptized, I called myself “born again” for like, 17 months or so, and apparently that shit is permanent, and I gave some quality time to Buddhism in my early 20s, so I feel like I’m pretty well covered should the end of days roll around. I talk about it flippantly, I know. I feel flipperish about it, what can I say? But there are swaths of me that apparently still believe the hype.
Baptism does not run in Susanne’s family. And the idea of a Catholic baptism would be at least somewhat anathema to their principles, I suppose. So it is that I’ve considered a closet baptism—literally weighed the logistics in my mind—for this new baby. It only lasts a few seconds before slapping myself. My baby does not need fetid tap water blessed by some guy in a collar to be poured over its head while it cries in a dress it’s going to wear for 30 minutes.
But if I’m going to have a critique of the Catholic Church, maybe I could baptize my kid myself. And then I go around another corner, because if it’s all this unofficial, why not just bathe my baby to clean it and leave it at that?
I fail at agnosticism. I suppose I’m not an agnostic, really, but I don’t fit into any church service, and I absolutely am not kneeling on red velvet bars in pews anymore. If I believe the multiverse is here at the whim or design of a higher power, why would I also believe that such a higher power would demand my newborn infant have one of the four elements of nature sloshed over its skin, or be subject to a life of eternal listlessness with the likes of Ken Lay?
I know, none of it makes any sense. It’s my protective reflex overextending into mythology, or my wandering mind awfulizing in a new area I’ve never considered—parenthood. Leave it to my persistent Catholic guilt to berate myself over the ultimate area of non-control: my child’s future afterlife.
Maybe I should let the kid get here first. And then splash a little seltzer on its forehead while Susanne isn’t looking.