Sunday, November 7, 2010

A dunk in the river, metaphorically speaking

Tonight my mother in law inquired about getting Elli baptized. This has come up in the past but always indirectly and I never have had a real talk with my inlaws about my feelings on the issue. My gut reaction is a resounding "HELL NO" but I don't want this to be something that causes a lot of friction; even if I don't agree with the religious beliefs of my relatives there isn't a compelling reason to make my life difficult by being belligerent about it. Our conversation tonight was intriguing to me because it highlighted the drastic differences in approach that myself and my mother in law take towards making these sorts of decisions.

She has a Master's in Biochemistry so she has no lack of exposure to scientific thought. In fact she talked about the difficulties she had while going through school when it was obvious that the scientific facts she was studying wholly contradicted the religious beliefs she was raised to accept. She was never able to reconcile those two and instead of sitting down and really trying to hammer out what her worldview really entailed she mostly just accepted that she had two mutually incompatible belief sets and continued to hold both of them anyway. She wants to get Elli baptized because that is how things were done for her and how she raised her children but I think she hasn't really sat down and thought about all the things that baptism entails.

For one, baptism is a ceremonial washing away of original sin. I think original sin is one of the most revolting concepts in Christianity so I certainly dislike taking part in a ritual focused around it. It is also a ceremony signifying acceptance into the church and a promise on the part of the parents (or the adult being baptized, if they are old enough to decide for themselves) that the person in question will be part of the church and raised to follow church beliefs. The church in question is Anglican so it isn't the most hardcore of churches but it still goes entirely against my beliefs. I don't want original sin washed off my daughter since acknowledging it as a real thing is unacceptable to me and we certainly aren't going to raise her in the church so there isn't really anything left of the ceremony aside from habit.

The trick is communicating my dislike of this ceremony while respecting their desires. When it comes to these things only two people get votes but Elli's grandparents are a big part of her life and I want them to be able to have some say in how their part of her life goes.  In this I have to be very careful because of the warring sides of me that have very different sorts of things to say.  Sometimes I want to just yell "WE ARE ATHEISTS, WHY AREN'T YOU?!?" and sometimes I want to just give in and let them do whatever they please as long as I don't have to fight about it.  It takes a lot of patience and caution to walk that line of maintaining politeness while insisting that our atheist notions be paramount, just as their theist notions were paramount when raising their children.


  1. We do all sorts of things out of habit. Heck, most of our life is ritual inherited from spirituality past.

    There's atheist, and there's Atheist, and you're definitely straying in to the latter.

    You're railing against symbolism which has no meaning to you, or presumably to Elli. You don't believe in, or approve of, the idea of original sin. You don't expect to be a part of a church or ascribe to its beliefs. Presumably, if being baptised is something her grandmother wants out of habit, then that is precisely the symbolism it carries and no more: a quaint family tradition and opportunity to celebrate a milestone in her growth.

    You only give power to symbolism when you confront it. Subvert instead! :)

  2. I don't feel like getting up in front of a crowd and making promises I am not going to keep. Wedding vows might also be considered just a quaint ritual but I took those mighty seriously. I don't particularly have a problem with people going through with this sort of ceremony just to keep the peace even though they don't mean it but I personally have no desire to make a public spectacle of a lie.

    I wish to be two things more than anything else: Wise and Honourable. Wisdom tells me I should be polite and gentle, honour tells me that I must not pretend to support an institution and practice that I so thoroughly disagree with. Do you feel like public vows are to be taken lightly and ignored when convenient?

  3. I guess I was responding mostly to the condemnation of the ceremonial washing away of original sin.

    I can't argue with the desire to not make false promises, perhaps you could compromise with a Thanksgiving? (I admit, though raised Anglican I'm rusty w/ the terminology, but I am positive that exists even if Google disagrees. Your mother in law's parish priest would know.)

  4. Aha, I knew it!

  5. I would really consider getting my child baptized if it were important to someone whose opinion I cared enough about on the subject, but I would really want to do it when they were a small baby, not when they were old enough that I'd have to explain what was going on to them. If I were in Red's situation one of the biggest problems I would have is what I would say to my daughter about what we were doing and why.

    I'm not up enough on child development to know what age to expect a child to really understand, "Sometimes you do things just because other people care about them more than you care to not do them." I know enough about younger children, however, to know that they aren't always particularly good at understanding secrets. Secrets like, "We're only doing this to appease you."

    I'm fine with lying my way through someone else's ritual if they really want me to, but I wouldn't feel comfortable asking young children to lie their way through the same ritual. It puts them in the difficult position of being kind of a pawn in a game of social power that they don't understand being played between adults who are supposed to care about them.