Saturday, February 19, 2005

Anything wrong with christening a baby?

The time is far approaching when what had been merely theoretical will turn into a live issue. My wife wants to christen our daughter in a couple of months time and has started the bureaucratic ball rolling. Well, I have agreed to it but with a heavy heart. The silly thing is that my wife doesn’t care half as much about it as I do. For her it is more about custom and not wanting our daughter to be different from the other kids. Not because there’s something great about being the same but because my wife thinks that children will pick on anyone who is different. Having always been different in some way I know on my own skin what that’s like. Mind you, our daughter will always be different anyhow. I guess I feel somewhat upset that my wife doesn’t appreciate that I am making a significant concession. On the other hand, how much of a concession is it given that I have never bothered to annul my being a member of the faith, so that I still figure in the percentage of my countrymen who are Christian?

So, that’s the question, I guess – what exactly is wrong with letting your child be christened? The first thing that comes to mind is that it means joining up your child to an organization at a stage when she is in no position to make a choice and when she may later not wish to be a member of that organization. Particularly, given the history of that organization – would you sign your daughter up to the Spanish Falange? This decision not only affects her but also gives succour to that organization. The amazing thing is the degree to which these kinds of decisions are handled for most people by tradition. Most people, in a sense, do not make a choice but simply repeat what everyone else is doing. If everyone is signing their children up then they sign them up too, if not then not. There appears to be very little consideration of the rightness or wrongness of the action – the qualms are handed over wholesale to the society that one lives in. I guess that this is just the thing that the existentialists rebelled against. But what if you are consciously doing something you consider wrong?

The thinking, I guess, is that my daughter will choose what she wants to be anyway so that this ceremony doesn’t matter. But if it doesn’t matter, why perform it at all? Of course, the reasons why the church invented the ceremony and made it something to be performed soon after birth are obvious. The aim was to try to lock people into the faith of their parents so as to ensure that the faith grew rather than withered. A faith which did not ensure its survival in some such way would not be around after two thousand years – the memes would have died out long ago. Again, this goes hand in hand with the way most people let their society handle most of the most significant choices in their life for them – just like churches, societies also have to be able to perpetuate themselves and a society which does not direct its members’ actions to a great degree will not be stable enough to last. But, on the individual level, performing the ceremony makes no sense. We no longer live in times when not being an official member of the faith carried with it any real threat.

The only threat that christening might be thought to protect against is the grave danger of dying without being cleansed of original sin. Of course, not just atheists but even most Christians do not take that seriously anymore. Our conception of justice has evolved to the point where the idea of being punished for something that a far distant relative might have done just seems preposterous. Not to mention that the ‘crime’ ‘committed’ was frivolous – eating an apple when one had been told not to but not given any substantive reason. Not to mention that most Christians do not think of the whole paradise story as anything more than, at best, an allegory. Certainly, my wife would laugh if someone suggested that our daughter is burdened by sin.

Still, my daughter is going to become an official member of the faith. And – without the excuse of just doing what society tells me to do – I will go along with it.


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