Baptism Angst

baby getting baptizedA 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?

the exorcist pea soupEven 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.

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11 Comments on “Baptism Angst”

  1. Sharon
    August 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Okay, the good Christian in me wants to make an intelligent comment on magic, Catholics, and belief in God. Don’t understand how we need to say magicv words to convince a God love innocent children, when He is supposed to be entirely motivated by love.
    But really I am just cracking up and wondering the if the baby’s hand in the picture was photoshopped. Too, too funny.

    • evmaroon
      August 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      Sharon, I’m glad we share priorities!

  2. Scott
    August 21, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    As a confirmed antitheist, any comment beyond, “don’t do it, it’s silly.” will likely be filled with rhetoric and inflammatory speech. I do find it interesting that even now, your Catholic programming is creeping back into your skull.

    • evmaroon
      August 21, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

      And I appreciate the atheism! What can I say, that nunsense is pervasive!

  3. Nicoline
    August 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    You should probably find some secular way of marking life’s great events. I was born into a protestant family that became more fundie as time went on. I tried to go along with it, I really did, but it just didn’t stick. Yet I still miss the rituals that come with religion. Not only for the big stuff, like babies and marriage and the like, but also the little things, like X-mas. To this very day, it is not truly Christmas if I don’t hear the Gospel according to Luke. Call me a cultural christian, I suppose.
    I know it’s hard to shake the religious BS you get spoonfed in childhood. You don’t want to do that kind of shit to your own child, and if you have any intention of reading a children’s bible with him/her from a non-religious perspective, I can tell you my kids thought the stories so absurdly implausible that they refused to listen to anything that came after the story of Noah and the ark.

    • evmaroon
      August 21, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

      With all of my efforts to get published, I wonder what agents would think of the believability of the bible story…if they just got it as a query. As for secularism, yes, I imagine we’ll celebrate without trying to immerse the child in mythologies. But at some point I’ll want to share the world’s myths with them.

  4. Nicoline
    August 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    I’m just sayin’… it’s hard to impart the myths from the bible with the same kind of “scientific detachment” you can have toward other myths. I tried reading to them from the Koran also, but it’s in many ways very similar to the stuff you get in the bible.

    • evmaroon
      August 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      The plausibility of human foibles is part of why I’m such a Greek mythos fan.

  5. Jen
    August 21, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    Facebook seems to have done a little number on my brain because I just spent a full ten seconds trying to “like” your last comment. (I love the Greek myths for the same reason.)

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and honest post. This is an intensely personal issue, and I appreciate your willingness to give others a glimpse into your internal dialogue about it.

  6. August 28, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    btw, baptism, like last rites, is one of those sacraments any baptized person can do. If they were so inclined. just sayin.
    Wound up doing the Catholic thang for weeIrish – the people in the “for” camp were much more earnest and committed than my “agin” was worth in the long run.

    Plus, it can’t hurt, right? ** tosses salt over left shoulder **

    • evmaroon
      August 29, 2011 at 8:14 am #

      This is good news, IrishUp! But now you have me worried about spilling salt. I never knew it mattered which shoulder one tossed it, just that you crossed your chest as you did it.

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