Dunk or No Dunk?

Let’s say you and your partner are thinking about your future babies.

Neither of you are religious and you don’t care about baptism. It’s just some irrelevant ritual.

But you figure both your parents would want a child to get baptised.

What do you do?

Reader Ray doesn’t mind letting the parents just go ahead with it:

My feeling is that, because the ceremony has no meaning to anyone outside of that faith and the child certainly doesn’t know what’s going on, then what’s the harm of letting our parents, the baby’s grandparents, have their baptism? It doesn’t change the baby and it certainly doesn’t affect or hurt anyone in the least bit. The child grows up not even remembering the day, and the people we care about that feel it is a necessary ceremony will have their rest-easy feeling. My fiance’ and I just won’t be a part of that day. Our parents, if they want to have a baptism, can plan it and arrange it and take the baby to church and get them dipped. We won’t be a part of it, but no harm in letting them do it, and why create an unnecessary fight or make any one upset over a sink of water?

His fiancée doesn’t agree. She says they “shouldn’t allow it to happen in any situation.”

What’s the compromise? Is there one?

We’re both unsure as to what to do. Both points valid and, I’m sure, arguable by anyone. Her main point being that, we’re The Parents and we should raise our children the way we want to. I can completely see the point and we just don’t know what to do when that time comes.

I’d side with the fiancée here. If you don’t want it, don’t have it.

If you let the grandparents get their way with the baptism, they’ll want their way with other parts of the child’s religious upbringing. What’s to stop them from preaching to the child about God and Jesus? From teaching them to pray? From reading the Bible to them?

All are (relatively) harmless and the child probably won’t remember anything from the first couple years of life, but my point is it’s much easier to take a stand up front rather than letting the seemingly small things build up.

  • Gabriel

    One thing to think about is whose child is this? Is the child the child of the parents or the grandparents. Grandparents often think of the grandchild as their child. It can be problem when they try to overrule the decisions of the parents. Everytime you give in on something because it is small and doesn’t matter the less control you have of how you want your child to be raised. It is a diffcult position but sometimes you have to do what I have had to do with my own parents and as politly as you can point out the you are the parent and you have to make the decisions about the child until that child is an adult.

  • Beijingrrl

    I side with the fiancée, too. My MIL is always trying to talk to my kids about God and Jesus on the sly despite the fact that she is well aware that we’re atheists. If I weren’t very firm with her it would be worse.

    As an aside, while we were in the US, I decided I needed to start teaching my kids about different religions because there is an overwhelming, pervasive Christian bias in the culture and if I taught them nothing I realized that they wouldn’t grow up seeing it as a bias, but the norm.

    I thoughtfully expose my kids to various beliefs while making my atheist views very clear to them. I want them to make their own decisions about spirituality, but I admit I seriously hope they don’t become religious.

    I guess I could always make them watch “The Prince of Egypt” again if that starts to happen. My daughter, who sometimes wants to believe in God, told me that she was “taking a break from God” after we watched it. I don’t know, the idea that God would kill all the first born babies bothered her for some reason. She asked me if God brought the babies back to life. I told her that in the story he didn’t. She said, “If he was God, couldn’t he have?” I answered that if you believed in the God in the story he could have, but he did not. That just didn’t sit well with her.

  • http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com Dale McGowan

    My primary concern is honesty. Part of most baptism services is a specific pledge from the parents (and godparents) to raise the child in that faith.

    Another concern is that it constitutes a claim by the church, and we should work hard to keep our kids unlabeled by anyone until they can choose their own way. In my experience, someone at some point will inform the child that s/he was baptized. The first step in choosing a worldview then becomes what should I do with the label that’s on me — which is fraught with unhelpful issues of loyalty and gratitude.

  • http://perkyskeptic.blogspot.com/ The Perky Skeptic

    Right– the grandparents need to let the parents raise their child the way they see fit. I think all parenting experts agree on that. (She said, making an assertion without bothering to put up a link to back it up.)

    My husband and I had not-entirely-dissimilar situation when my son was a baby, but after some conversation, we discovered that my mom just wanted a photo of him in my brother’s heirloom christening outfit! She didn’t care one bit whether we conducted any kind of ceremony, as long as she got a piccie! *LOL*

  • mike

    I’m in a similar situation, at least hypothetically. We don’t have kids yet but my wife mentioned once she might want to baptize (to avoid fallout from her parents). I nearly had a coronary episode. When I told her she would have to stand up in front of the church and lie, she changed her mind. Having her parents actually do the baptism.. that’s an idea that hasn’t occurred to anyone yet, and let’s hope it never does. I’d still be opposed to her parents standing up in church and taking on a promise that they would not be equipped to fulfill, being geographically separated from us. The only people equipped to make the commitment required during baptism are us.

    The “we don’t want to lie in front of a whole church full of people” logic worked fairly well with the parents. Fortunately they are not of the “harvesting souls for Jesus” variety, and would not be likely to take things into their own hands.

  • Teresa

    If your parents are catholic, you can take the easy way out like my parents. In catholic doctrine, anyone can baptize a baby anywhere any time, so my parents are pretty sure both my grandmothers just snuck me into a bathroom at some point and did it real quick. Leave the baby alone with grandma and grandpa and I’m sure they will do likewise. :)

  • mike

    my mom just wanted a photo of him in my brother’s heirloom christening outfit!

    Hm, if we offered some sort of ritual or party as a replacement the baptism ceremony (instead of replacing it with nothing), I can imagine that would certainly make things go over better with grandparents. Thanks for giving me the idea! I will definitely have to think about this some more…

  • James Sterrett

    What Dale said. (Beat me to it. Sigh.)

    The only thing to add is:

    One of our son’s grandparents has threatened to simply take him and get him baptized on her own. We can probably prevent that, oddly enough. :)

    However, we figure that if she does, we can always tell her we’ve de-baptized him. Probably (certainly) not useful in terms of family relations, but the revenge fantasy keeps our blood pressure down. :D

  • Adrian

    I’m siding with Ray against his fiancee on this on this one, unfortunately.

    I haven’t dealt with the baptism issue but my g/f constantly gets flack from her family trying to control what will happen in our wedding. I initially too the fiance position and told her to tell them that it was our wedding and they should butt out. Unfortunately several of her friends have tried this and their parents didn’t attend their wedding and in one case it has been three years and they haven’t spoken.

    After a lot of thought, I’m coming to the conclusion that even though we like to think our lives are our own and we can live them as we like – which is true enough – we must also recognize that our actions have consequences. If friends or family have very strong expectations and we disappoint them, we could undermine or destroy a relationship.

    So here’s the choice as I see it:

    Do you perform a meaningless, empty ritual which costs you nothing but time and will make loved ones very happy if you perform and deeply upset if you do not

    OR

    Do you assert your independence and isolate yourself from your family and loved ones?

    Yeah it would be nice if the fiancee were right but with the right (or wrong) parents, I think she’s being simplistic.

  • TheDeadEye

    Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Stand up to them now for everyone’s sake. Why should they have the right to choose a religion for your child?

    I was asked at a family party when I was getting my son baptized and I answered, “When he’s 18, he can join any religion he wants.” That put a stop to all that nonsense.

  • http://josephbales.com Joey

    My brother was dunked as a baby, but I was not for some unknown reason. I am glad I was not. It left the decision to me. It was a hard decision for me to take even though I grew up in a Christian family in a small Bible Belt town. When I got older I began to see my friends get baptized and my brother was re-baptized when he was twelve. I felt like I should be getting baptized, especially when I got to be twelve and older. I can’t remember if I asked my parents about it, but I’m sure if I did they told me it was my decision to take and I could take it in my own good time. So I waited because people told me it was a life changing event when Jesus came into your heart and I had had no such event. Ultimately I was never baptized. As I got older my doubts got stronger and a few years into college I was calling myself an Atheist. I’m still not officially “out,” but if anyone in my family were to ask me directly I would tell them.

    I’d say don’t do it and leave the decision for your child to take when they are old enough to understand what is going on. This is something for your child, not for you or or parents to decide.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    One thing people tend to forget when discussing this is that it doesn’t just involve the baby in question and its family, but a priest. Personally I think it’s extremely respectless of the priest’s beliefs to have him/her perform a ritual he/she presumably believes in deeply but which you think is bullshit. I don’t think religion merits any special kind of respect but I do think people should be left to practise it on their own so long as they don’t hurt anyone, without us godless heathens crapping all over it. I do realise that priests may view it differently (since they’re presumably saving a soul), but that’s just the way I see it. I couldn’t bring myself to go through with a baptism, knowing the priest believes every word it’s saying, and I’m standing there thinking it’s being a moron.

  • mkb

    All three of my kids were baptized, because I was a believer then, and all three are college-aged atheists now. The baptism didn’t do them any harm. However, I am uncomfortable with the getting up in church and lying part of baptizing children just to make the grandparents happy. I think it would be better to have a naming ceremony at an ethical society or some other naming or dedication ceremony in a theistically neutral place. The ceremony would affirm the seriousness with which you were taking your responsibility to raise your child ethically. The grandparents would not likely be completely placated but maybe they would respect your decision.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    My husband and I went with “no dunk” for some of the reasons discussed here. (1) I’m not going to verbally pledge to raise my kids Catholic. If the ceremony requires that, then no way. (2) it would give relatives the wrong idea about whether it’s okay to teach our kids about Jesus.

  • cipher

    If you let the grandparents get their way with the baptism, they’ll want their way with other parts of the child’s religious upbringing. What’s to stop them from preaching to the child about God and Jesus? From teaching them to pray? From reading the Bible to them?

    I agree with Hemant. It’s the slippery slope.

    Also, it validates the priest and the parents in their probably assumption that, deep down, you know they’re right. You just don’t want to admit it because you want to lead a life of shameless hedonism without consequences – i. e., going to hell. Yes, I know one shouldn’t care about what others think – but I can’t stand the smugness.

    In catholic doctrine, anyone can baptize a baby anywhere any time

    Teresa, I thought you had to have the parents’ consent?

  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com nonfictions

    And, also baptism might mean nothing to them, but it certainly means something tho their parents. And it’s kind of like a contract to raise the child in a Christian way, so it’s not a one time thing.

    And I think it’s important to show that unbaptized kids can be raised in love, and turn out to the happy, productive human beings.

  • TXatheist

    When we had our son dedicated at the UU church my fundamentalist grandma couldn’t get past dedicated to whom. If it wasn’t god then you can’t be dedicated in a church she said. I replied we dedicate him to humanity and she said that was silly at which point I said bingo, god is silly so dedicating a baptized child to a god is silly. She didn’t get it.

  • Beowulff

    I’d have to add my support to the fiancée. The thing is, the baby might not be affected, but the way the grandparents view it might: they might from then on consider the child to be Christian. This could give them an extra argument to use when they think you’re not raising it right (or Christian enough).

    I’d say organize a secular ceremony instead, like a naming ceremony.

  • l.i.

    The problem is, according to cath. doctrine a non-baptised child/person cannot go to heaven, no matter how “good” he/she was. This is why cath.s have this kind of “emergency baptism” Teresa mentioned, which so to say gives the kid at least a chance, even if the parents don’t bring it up catholically.
    Personally I agree that one should not give in. If the realtives get mad in spite of all efforts to avoid conflict – well, to be honest, I think relatives who do not respect that you may have a different point of view are not really worth it.

  • Beowulff

    Adrian: that sounds like the worst reason to give their parents their way. It’s giving in to emotional blackmail.

    If you and your parents are so different in your life philosophies, that simply living your life as you see fit causes alienation, then the problem is not with you, it’s with your parents. Yes, the consequence of confronting them may be harsh, but the consequence of giving in means you’ll either have to give in for the rest of your (or their) life, or confront them again later.

    Personally, I don’t think anyone has an obligation to keep the ties with friends and family at all costs. If there are differences that can’t be compromised on, to the extent that they lead to alienation, than so be it. Pretending those differences aren’t there is not a solution that leads to happiness in the long run either.

    If friends or family have very strong expectations and we disappoint them, we could undermine or destroy a relationship.

    I think this is where the heart of the problem is, but it also gives a hint to its solution: make sure that their expectations are more in line with reality. Don’t wait until you get married or have a baby with making clear what your position is on religion and similar issues. Be clear what is acceptable to you and what isn’t. You don’t have to be confrontational about it, but don’t tip-toe around the issues either.

    If you wait for that special event, however, you’re too late, and confrontation is the only option left. And yes, that can end ugly.

  • http://www.humanistmom.com Marf

    As a humanist celebrant I officiated a baby naming for a couple with a big Catholic extended family a few years ago, and they mentioned that part of the reason a baby naming ceremony was appealing was that it provided something like a baptism, but without being dishonest about the whole belief in supernatural or tenets of any religion. Sure, some of the grandparents didn’t wholly like it, but the fact is that Baptism is a ritual where the parents make a promise, and so if you don’t intend to keep the promise, it is dishonest and disrespectful to Catholics, regardless of how the grandparents might feel.

    I think the important thing, in addition to staying honest, is to be kind and emphasize to family members your love for them and what you have in common (such as in this case the embrace of a ritual to welcome a new baby.) Where there is real family love, people can overcome disagreements.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I don’t think there’s a single right answer to this, it really depends on whether the baptism is a big one-time thing for the grandparents, or if it’s part of a slippery slope to giving the grandparents rights for other religious things. Which it is really depends on knowing the grandparents, and what type of relations they have with the parents. That said, I’d guess the slippery slope scenario is more likely.

    Felicia, I don’t see how it’s disrespectful to the priest. The priest baptizes the baby, not the parents, and I suspect almost any priest Ray explained the situtation to would still be happy to baptize the baby.

    Adrian, good luck dealing with the mess of wedding planning and family. It sounds like you and your fiancee are thinking carefully about all the issues, so I’m sure you’ll navigate through OK.

  • mandrake

    I’m sure this doesn’t always apply, but if the grandparents are going to be so insistent about the baptism that refusing them will “undermine or destroy a relationship” then it seems unlikely that they’ll consider their religious influence to stop there.
    If someone really thinks baptism is that important, what are the chances that they’ll ignore the kid not going to church, not being confirmed, not getting married in a religious ceremony…

  • cipher

    my fundamentalist grandma… didn’t get it.

    I think that at a certain point, the part of the brain that would have been able to process this sort of argument just atrophies.

    The problem is, according to cath. doctrine a non-baptised child/person cannot go to heaven, no matter how “good” he/she was.

    I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s a popular misconception – like “you can’t be forgiven unless a priest absolves you”. It’s the sort of idea that poorly educated nuns used to dole out in Catholic schools.

  • Axegrrl

    Adrian said:

    even though we like to think our lives are our own and we can live them as we like – which is true enough – we must also recognize that our actions have consequences. If friends or family have very strong expectations and we disappoint them, we could undermine or destroy a relationship.

    No. If your friends or family have strong expectations and are ‘disappointed’ with your choice (and this results in some form of ‘estrangement’), then it is THEY who have chosen to undermine/destroy the relationship.

    Moreover, anyone who resorts to such ‘emotional blackmail’ (to quote others who have already responded) is of very questionable ‘worth’ as an ally.

    Painful, yes. But remember, it’s their choice and there is no ‘blame’ to be had on your end.

  • lynn

    I’m getting married next May and we’re both hardcore anti-theists. Of course our families have plenty of very religious people in them. If the question comes up on my side of the family, all I’m going to say is that I went to my cousins’ very religious weddings and didn’t say a word as it wasn’t my wedding. That should shut them down easily. On his side, I’m not so sure; I’ll let him deal with the priests and ministers on his side of the family.

    It’s a similar thing with baptism. This is our child, we don’t tell you how to raise your children, please show us the same courtesy.

    I agree with mandrake — if they’re so adamant about baptism, they’ll be adamant about other things too. Put your foot down now and it’ll be easier to do so in the future. Let them have “this one meaningless little thing” and they’ll push for other things that mean nothing to you but mean plenty to them, and the child will grow up either confused or thinking that you make concessions to religious people just to keep the peace. That’s a very bad way to look at relationships between people that will affect the child for the rest of its life.

    I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking that religion must be treated with kid gloves, or that the way to form and maintain healthy relationships is by going along with irrational beliefs and rituals, doing things that waste time, money, and energy.

    Course, I guess that means I should stop using figures of speech like “thank God”, “God help me”, and “God only knows” — though that last one works fine with atheism…

  • Axegrrl

    For those who are kind of ‘put off’ by this idea of grandparents baptizing kids ‘while no one is looking’, I have a question: how do you feel about the Mormon practice of ‘baptizing the dead’? (here’s a brief summary):

    ‘On any given day, in more than fifty Mormon temples around the world, thousands of faithful Mormons are baptized vicariously for the dead. Most non-Mormons are dimly aware that the Mormons are interested in genealogy, but they are not sure why. While there is nothing wrong with being interested in genealogy as a hobby, this is far from a hobby for Mormons.

    They believe people who have died can be baptized by proxy, thus allowing them the opportunity to become Mormons after their death.

    You might be surprised to learn that the Mormon church has teams of men and women microfilming records of Catholic and Protestant parishes, cemetery records, birth and death certificates—virtually any sort of record pertaining to past generations. Temple Mormons hope, in time, to have all of the dead of previous generations baptized posthumously into the Mormon church.’

    Ever since I’ve learned about this, it has ‘bothered’ me in some way, but I can’t quite articulate why specifically ~ unlike the living children at the heart of this story, there is no issue of a ‘promise to be kept’ with the dead who are getting baptized by proxy by the Mormons……I guess it’s just the idea of presumptuously undermining whatever beliefs the dead in quesion had in life that ‘rubs me the wrong way’

    anyone else care to share your response to this practice?

  • Axegrrl

    lynn said:

    Let them have “this one meaningless little thing” and they’ll push for other things that mean nothing to you but mean plenty to them, and the child will grow up either confused or thinking that you make concessions to religious people just to keep the peace. That’s a very bad way to look at relationships between people that will affect the child for the rest of its life.

    Very articulately said Lynn

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Autumnal Harvest – I was trying to convey that it’s not so much about what the priest feels as how I would feel I was treating the priest. I never feel at home in churches when there’s something religious going on, and if I was personally involved, that would be even worse. I would stand there and think the priest is being a moron and I would feel bad about enlisting his/her services to do this thing I think is both idiotic and immoral. I know in this instance the priest probably wouldn’t MIND, but I still don’t think I have any business using religious ceremonies etc when I’m not religious.

    It’s kind of a complicated emotion so it’s difficult to put in writing…

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Not so very long ago in the grand scheme of things, Catholics baptized Jewish kids and then refused to send them back to their families. And by not so very long ago, I mean WWII. (Here’s an article from 30 Days.) In fact, through the 19th century it was not unheard of for Catholic servants sometimes to baptize Jewish babies, who were then not returned to their families because it would have been wrong to let Jews bring up a Christian.

    I doubt these in-laws would try to get the kids away from the atheist parents, but who knows what unpleasantness could follow? Put your foot down now.

  • http://perkyskeptic.blogspot.com/ The Perky Skeptic

    Right, Axegrrl– I feel the same way about post-mortem baptism as I do about astrology-based eulogies: they dishonor my entire philosophy of life, and no one who had so much as a gram of respect for me would do it.

  • J Myers

    Your child, your choice. If the child becomes religious later in life, he can voluntarily participate in any ritual he chooses.

    Parents need to learn when to back the hell off sometimes… particularly when they try to use your innate desire for their approval to guilt you into appeasing their irrational desires.

  • http://www.whatwouldraydo.blogspot.com Ray Harrington

    Hi everyone, I’m the Ray from the original post. Just to clarify a few things as I see some of the comments following a pattern that isn’t the case in my circumstances.

    1. Our parents aren’t at all pushing for a baptism as we aren’t having children yet. We were simply discussing what we would do when the time came. So the slippery slope isn’t an issue as no one is pressing and I feel that our parents are of the “it’s tradition” side of religion and not strict followers.

    2. While I will raise my children exactly how we see fit, I also love my mom. SHe didn’t push religion on me at all, but she did have me baptized… it didn’t work!… I want my mom to be able to feel as connected as possible to the lives of our children. If that means a 1 time deal, so be it. If she were controllingly religious or it would lead to more, then I wouldn’t be considering it… and she wouldn’t be my mom.

    3. She isn’t catholic. Most Christian religions involve baptism of a kind. Just thought I would mention that as the ceremony wouldn’t be about pledging catholocism. And frankly, whatever the priest or pastor or whatever says is going to go through one ear and out the other with our parents. It’s about the tradition for them.

    4. No one is telling me how to raise my child, but I also understand the importance of grandparents in a child’s life. I didn’t have my Dad around, but my grandma and great-grandma were a HUGE part of my growing up.

  • cipher

    Ray,

    If it’s just a matter of tradition, I could see it. Jews have bar/bat-mitzvahs for the same reason.

  • cipher

    Ridger,

    In fact, through the 19th century it was not unheard of for Catholic servants sometimes to baptize Jewish babies, who were then not returned to their families because it would have been wrong to let Jews bring up a Christian.

    That, I hadn’t heard.

  • http://themousesnest.blogspot.com Mouse

    My partner was baptized in the Episcopalian Church as a baby. She went through the trouble of Confirmation, although already a heavy doubter, because she felt an obligation, given that certain strong believers in her life had pledged responsibility for her religious education and soul up to that point.

    I went to Jewish Sunday School for several years, because I enjoyed learning Hebrew and the stories and songs. I quit at the point my class would have started preparations for bar and bat mitzvahs, because I knew I didn’t believe and didn’t think it was honest to go through with the ceremony.

    I’m glad that the bat mitzvah was slated for when I was old enough to have some thoughts about it, unlike baptism for babies. In the long run, I consider it as I do circumcision–it’s always something my kid can do later on if he so chooses.

  • Milena

    I was baptized in a Christian Orthodox church in secret by my mom and grandmother, because my father, a long-time Communist, wanted to wait until I could choose for myself. Later, going through Catholic school, I got Confirmed without understanding the meaning of the ceremony in the least. Now, I can honestly say I wish I hadn’t gone through either ceremony until I had an actual understanding of it.

    I think that letting the grandparents go through with this will only open the door to more religious indoctrination, which will ultimately cause more friction. Better nip this one at the bud.

  • J Myers

    anyone else care to share your response to this practice?

    If South Park was right, I’d say this is a damn good thing. Otherwise, typical religious nonsense; hardly worth our concern.

  • belongsomewhere

    This is basically what happened to my parents–they didn’t get married in the Church, and so both sides of the family insisted that I be baptized. No harm so far… Next, my grandparents suggested that I be enrolled in CCD classes (my parents thought it may be a good way for me to make friends, as I was painfully shy growing up). Then I had a first Communion and was eventually Confirmed. Neither of my parents is a practicing Catholic, nor did they want me to be, really. I guess everything seemed like a tiny favor, but it really did have an impact on my life (despite the fact that I told my parents I didn’t believe in God at the age of four, long before I entered CCD).

  • Indigo

    I can’t speak for other faiths, but my parents’ minister (United Church of Canada) has expressed frustration with parents who come to her wanting their child baptised but unwilling to join the congregation. In the UCC, baptism is seen as a ritual welcoming the child into the spiritual community – a joyous event, but one you’re meant to take seriously and not just go through for the sake of it.


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