Monday, January 14, 2013


As I understand it, some Christian schools assert that a child who is not baptized is a child destined for hell ... an assertion that asks enormously more questions that it answers from where I sit.

For all that, "baptism" is an interesting idea. It means, according to an Internet dictionary:
1. a : a Christian sacrament marked by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community
    b : a non-Christian rite using water for ritual purification
    c: Christian Science : purification by or submergence in Spirit
2.: an act, experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named
As far as I can figure out, baptism as a religious ritual has nothing to do with the one subjected to baptism and everything to do with the ones subjecting him or her to it... sort of like branding a steer.

I'm not trying to criticize such rituals or suggest that others not indulge in them. I am just interested in what is actually happening and under what reality-based circumstances.

In the Christian sense, it seems that a baby is in need of baptism in order to join the faith. Babies, of course, have no knowledge of or need for a faith. They are babies ... what more is necessary? So, in any ordinary, factual and in-your-face sense, babies are OK but there are those who think they need to be made OK-er. If something is OK, is it possible to make it OK-er?

And if "God" is brought into the equation and if it is asserted that babies can only get right with God if they have been baptized ... well, would an all-knowing and all-powerful God have brought this emanation called "a baby" into the world without thinking things were already OK? If this is so, then religious baptism amounts to man's OK-ing what God already OK'd.... and feels a little like the four-year-old who stands at his beloved father's side when the old man tells an unpleasant person to "go suck and egg!" And the kid, wishing to emulate and express his allegiance to the old man pipes up, "Yeah! Go suck an egg!" It's cute, but also a little ridiculous.

And then there's the question of how any child could possibly escape the fires of hell? Born into hell, lived in hell, died in hell. Born into heaven, lived in heaven, died in heaven. If someone has found a way around all that, well, I'll have a little of what s/he's drinking.

In a wider sense, "baptism" indicates an initiation, as in a "baptism by fire." It marks in words what has already begun in fact. It is something "new," although by the time it is noticed and named, it is already old and therefore no longer new or novel. Its surprising gravitas has in some measure dwindled before it is ever named. By the time it is named, it is just what is happening, not yet exactly old-hat, but certainly not new-hat either.

And perhaps that's the nut of "baptism" -- the grave and gravelly gravitas that someone else brings to a situation that, of itself, requires no such thing.

The already-baptized child is baptized.

Maybe it's like drug addiction: If one's good, two's better. Ritual helps to strengthen the mind, but I sometimes wonder, "strengthen for what... what's so weak about what already is?"

I don't know. Just noodling.

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