Trying to reconcile baptism and my conscience

Hi, all. Hopefully someone here can help me figure this out.

My wife is Catholic. I (as you probably guessed by the username) am not. We got married several years ago in her church; before we did, I promised her and her priest that I wouldn’t stop her from her duties as a Catholic, including ensuring that our children receive the various sacraments at the appropriate time.

Since then, I’ve been attending her church with her, reading the Bible and the Catechism, and generally trying to learn more about Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. In a large part, this has been out of an attempt to explore my own beliefs and see if I could ever become a Christian myself (which would make my wife very happy), but also to learn more about a religion that will likely be a significant part of the lives of my future children (we don’t have any yet, but plan to).

During this time, though, I’ve found that the more I experience and learn about the Church, the more I find that I disagree with, both on theological and moral grounds.

One conclusion that I’ve found myself led to is that I don’t feel that I would be able to attend the baptism of my children in good conscience. As you can imagine, this prospect upsets my wife and would likely cause problems with her family… both of which are things that I would like to avoid if at all possible. I have several reasons for my feelings on the matter; my hope is that hearing some fresh perspectives here will give me some insight on how I can appreciate this important ceremony in a different way.

Hopefully people here don’t take offense at these points. I do believe them, but I’m open to new ideas:

  • I believe baptism sounds insane, frankly. I don’t see any more merit in the idea that dipping a baby in water is necessary to prevent an unseen mystical being from torturing him or her than the idea that wearing a tinfoil hat is necessary to prevent secret satellites from stealing your thoughts. The only difference I see is that one belief is widely held, and therefore accepted by society.

  • I believe that baptism is contradictory to common sense. I simply can’t understand the mentality that would lead to someone looking at an innocent, perfect newborn baby and say “he’s flawed and sinful - we need to fix him.”

  • I believe that the necessity of baptism contradicts other Christian ideas. If infant baptism is indeed necessary, then I see only two possiblities: an arbitrary, unjust God who would punish a child for the actions of his or her parents; or a weak God whose will could be thwarted by simply not dipping an infant in water in a particular way. Neither of these ideas fit with the idea of an all-powerful loving God that is espoused by the Church.

  • I don’t believe it’s right to indoctrinate a child into a religion that he or she doesn’t believe in (even if it’s because the child is too young to be capable of religious belief). I think it takes away a choice that belongs to the child, once they’re old enough to make it themselves.

  • I disagree with certain teachings of the Catholic church, and believe that in a few cases, the Church’s stance is actually harmful. I believe that to a certain extent, giving my blessing to my child’s baptism would be tacit approval of the Church, including the aspects that I believe are wrong.

Like I said before, I’m not considering stopping my children from being baptised; I made a promise, and I intend to keep it. But I would appreciate your thoughts; hopefully there will be a gem or two in there that I can seize, which will let me attend an important event in the life of my future children.

My 2 cents.

I think you have a situation where you love your wife and child (future children, etc) and want to be more united with them. However, you find that you fundementally do not agree on religion. That is painfull; likely for both you and the rest of your family.

In your eyes, it likely appears very painfull that your wife cares so much about something you think is stupid. To her, it is likely painfull that these importaint events are ones where you are neutral towards, and not fully supporting.

That said, you and your wife both made agreements. While it is true that you agreed for the children to be raised Catholic, baptised, etc; she also agreed to marry you, love you, honor you, etc – and part of that is respecting your choice to attend or not attend these religious events.

I think you have every right not to attend.

That said, I think you’ll end up happier if you do attend. Why? Because it is a way to show your child (children) and wife that you love and support them, even if you think what they are doing is silly. If your child was in a school play – which, honestly, are usually silly – I think you’d be willing to go, even if it was boring and you hated it. Perhaps, you would do the same for religious issues.

Again, though, it is a decision you have to make.

If for no other reason, do it for your wife, it’s important to her that you be there.

Jim

Here are some links which you might find to be of some help:
The Necessity of Baptism
Infant Baptism
Early Teachings on Infant Baptism
Baptismal Grace

Perhaps an analogy might help… when you look at a newborn baby, do you see just the newborn baby, or the “inner adult” (s)he will grow into? When you look at an acorn, do you see just an acorn, or the “inner oak tree”? Can you tell, just by looking at the acorn, whether its “inner oak tree” will be the most perfect specimen of an oak tree or some lopsided, gnarly eyesore?

Hello LA, and welcome to the forum. :wave:

Thank you for your honesty. One of the first things one needs in order to have a relationship with God that is genuine is honesty, I’m sure you agree. :slight_smile:

I copied these two points because I see them as the crux of the matter. Some of the other things are related, but really ought to have threads of their own so what we share here with you isn’t taken into several directions (which is all to common even when only one topic is asked about in a thread. :wink: )

  • I believe that baptism is contradictory to common sense. I simply can’t understand the mentality that would lead to someone looking at an innocent, perfect newborn baby and say “he’s flawed and sinful - we need to fix him.”
  • I believe that the necessity of baptism contradicts other Christian ideas. If infant baptism is indeed necessary, then I see only two possiblities: an arbitrary, unjust God who would punish a child for the actions of his or her parents; or a weak God whose will could be thwarted by simply not dipping an infant in water in a particular way. Neither of these ideas fit with the idea of an all-powerful loving God that is espoused by the Church.

Baptism has a long religious history that predates Christ and Christianity. Ceremonial washing has long denoted purity. The ancient Egyptians practiced it and many other ancient cultures, as well.

Christ instituted baptism as a simple way of conveying grace to us human beings. We are physical creatures, not just spiritual ones. We need tactile experiences to help us understand and take into our lives spiritual realities that can otherside seem too ethereal for us to grasp.

Also, baptizing children does not cleanse them of their parents actual sin. Here is an article on original sin to help you understand it. Children can be no better/different from their parents. Frogs have baby frogs with all the attributes and limitations of frogs. Bacteria cannot produce chickens from their matings. All us physical creatures are products of our parentage.

What the Church teaches is that Adam and Eve fell from grace. What this means is they lost something they should have had. In theological terms it means everyone is born with his nature corrupted (which is why there is hatred and wars amongst us), our intellect darkened (which is why even brilliant people can be monsters), and a weakend will (which is why we can’t always do the things we know we ought to do). No human being, no matter his age, is immune to those limitations.

What baptism does is restore God’s grace to us to help us overcome these limitations. It’s a help, not a way of showing we’re bad, but a medicine to help make us well.

I hope that helps you somewhat–at least to make a beginning at understanding baptism, and perhaps more importantly, that the Church isn’t about punishing anyone but all about providing the cure for what ails the human race. The proof that we need a cure is there in our daily papers and in our homes to see quite clearly, sad to say :frowning: .

I don’t believe it’s right to indoctrinate a child into a religion that he or she doesn’t believe in (even if it’s because the child is too young to be capable of religious belief). I think it takes away a choice that belongs to the child, once they’re old enough to make it themselves.

I’ve heard a few parents and people my age say this, but if you think about it, this is impossible. However you raise your child will indoctrinate them. If you teach them it’s wrong to stare at strangers, wrong to chew with your mouth open, wrong to pick your nose in public and wrong to go to the bathroom with the door open then that’s indoctrination. If you teach them to snack on fruit and vegetables, to limit the amount of candy they eat, to sit at the table and thank their mother/father (whoever made the meal) for the meal then that’s indoctrination.

Parents have the right (and in most cases the duty) to indoctrinate their children in order to raise them to be productive and healthy members of society. By the way, if your child doesn’t believe, truly does’t believe, they’re not going to stick with it. The deacon at our church has children who are no longer in the Faith, and he’s devout. It’s not like ‘indoctrination’ will automatically make your child a robot who, regardless of what they want, will follow along a set path, mindlessly. (After all, we all remember the kid in third grade who picked his nose, regardless of how his parents had indoctrinated him).

Hello LapsedAtheist,

For starters, I want to thank you for coming here to seek honest answers. The vast majority of nonbelievers and skeptics rarely research these questions in any depth.

I am a former atheist (perhaps agnostic). During some challenging years of my life, I discovered a loving God - a God I once thoroughly rejected.

I could be wrong, but my sense is that your question is more holistic in scope. Because I once held a worldview similar to yours (so it seems), I can appreciate your perspective concerning baptism. Quite frankly, I would have believed the same thing, but would not have been as open as you are. (I thought Christians were a bunch of misguided kooks.)

Many people posted info that will be helpful to you. However, I would like to make you a free offer. In the coming weeks, I hope to finish a short book on my conversion story. I believe you will find it very captivating, and entertaining. At the very least, you will come to a better appreciation of our faith.

Please send me a brief message to may email, and I’ll let you know how you can get a free copy. I think you’ll be pleased you did…

These can be deep and challenging issues. I wish you the best in your search!

The problem is before you can understand Baptism, you have to undertand Sacraments in general. Before you can understand Sacraments you must understand Jesus Christ and the Church he founded. Before you can understand Jesus and the Church you must understand Jesus’s mission, sacrifice and relationship to the Father. Before you can understand this you must seek to understand God and creation.

Thanks for your replies, everyone. You’ve given me quite a bit to think about… and touched on several of the problems I have regarding the Church in general.

What the Church teaches is that Adam and Eve fell from grace. What this means is they lost something they should have had. In theological terms it means everyone is born with his nature corrupted (which is why there is hatred and wars amongst us), our intellect darkened (which is why even brilliant people can be monsters), and a weakend will (which is why we can’t always do the things we know we ought to do). No human being, no matter his age, is immune to those limitations.

What baptism does is restore God’s grace to us to help us overcome these limitations. It’s a help, not a way of showing we’re bad, but a medicine to help make us well.

But it was God’s choice to create a world where that corruption of the nature of humanity could happen, wasn’t it?

In the end, isn’t the idea of Original Sin (and by extension, the necessity of baptism) based on the punishment for an action committed by another, which at most would be considered a venial sin?*

*since it doesn’t meet the requirements for mortal sin: Adam and Eve didn’t have full knowledge of right and wrong until after eating from the tree.

The problem is before you can understand Baptism, you have to undertand Sacraments in general. Before you can understand Sacraments you must understand Jesus Christ and the Church he founded. Before you can understand Jesus and the Church you must understand Jesus’s mission, sacrifice and relationship to the Father. Before you can understand this you must seek to understand God and creation.

I do see your point… and that may be where part of the problem comes from. I simply do not understand the sacrifice of Jesus: in His capacity as Lamb of God, i.e. the sacrificial lamb for all people in all times, He would be the innocent party in a horrible injustice, wouldn’t He? I once heard a (non-Catholic) minister describe what he believed about the Day of Judgement: that every true Christian, when called to reckon, would find “paid in full” written next to his name and the amount of debt he had accumulated through sin… but I don’t see why “no charge” would have worked just as well; the only difference would be the suffering of an innocent (or rather, immeasurable suffering of the infinitely innocent).

I think this view of mine is a major impediment to seeking to understand God (along with the fact that I’ve found no compelling reason to believe in the existence of any sort of higher power): I haven’t been able to appreciate the Christian view of Jesus’ sacrifice as anything other than inherently unjust.

If there is a God, and if I have sinned in His eyes, I fully expect (and freely accept) the full punishment for whatever I have done in this life; I feel it would be wrong for me not to. By the same token, however, I do not accept any punishment or responsibility for the sins of others.

And as far as the Sacraments go, you’re right: I don’t understand them. I can appreciate them as human ritual (and I see the value of ritual in other aspects of my life), but I feel that in claiming that they convey Grace, it’s implied that they are a mechanism to make God submit to human commands, which I find disturbing.

Hmm… I may have drifted a bit off-topic here, but I think these issues are all wrapped together for me. Thank you again for your thoughts, all.

Once your future children arrive, I think you will begin to understand why Jesus would accept the punishment for the sins of human beings. The love of parents for children is protective, almost to the point of being irrational. Loving parents will do anything to keep their children from harm. Anything.

The love of God for human beings is parental love perfected and unlimited. Jesus (the omnipotent God), wishing to protect his beloved human family from harm, took upon Himself the punishment for their sins, so as to keep them from being eternally separated from God in hell.

You may have an inkling of this kind of love now with your wife, but children will give you a whole new perspective.

Betsy

Amen, Betsy. It’s all about truth working in love. :slight_smile:

But it was God’s choice to create a world where that corruption of the nature of humanity could happen, wasn’t it?

This means that God didn’t want to create puppets on strings. If humankind didn’t have the choice to follow God or not, we wouldn’t be truly free agents. But, God wants us to know and love him for his own sake not because we fear hell or because we want security or because we want to be on the “winning side.” It is love that motivated God to give us free will. Any parent would want the same for his children–what parent would want his children to love and obey him because he had no choice in the matter? None that are sane, IMHO.

In the end, isn’t the idea of Original Sin (and by extension, the necessity of baptism) based on the punishment for an action committed by another, which at most would be considered a venial sin?*

That’s the terrible burden that Adam and Eve had to bear–that instead of the future of complete love and trust they could have given their children, they gave them one of envy and hatred and suspicion and all the rest of the sins of humanity. But, as I wrote in my last post, what we inherited from Adam and Eve wasn’t their actual sin, but the consequences of their sin. How could it be otherwise? How could imperfect people produce perfect ones? Adam and Eve being the father and mother of the human race had a choice to make, not just for themselves, but as the true progenitors of their race, of all their descendants, as well. We are all responsible before God for our own sins, but Adam and Eve chose imperfection for themselves and so for their children–the very thing Jesus was born to counteract through his Incarnation in the womb of his human mother, Mary. This is why St. Paul refers to Jesus as the “Second Adam”–as the progenitor of a new race–a race of people from all races who belong, once again, to God through his love and grace.

*since it doesn’t meet the requirements for mortal sin: Adam and Eve didn’t have full knowledge of right and wrong until after eating from the tree.

I’m afraid not. They knew God had forbidden them to eat of the tree. They knew God meant it. They knew there would be consequences if they did, because God had told them so. And yet, they freely chose to do it anyway.

God is not unjust. If they had not been guilty he would not have found them guilty. In his love and truth, he could do nothing else. But, he provided a way for all of us to be reconciled with his divine justice by providing a divine Person to do that by taking on our nature in the Incarnation of Jesus and dying on the cross.

As to Jesus being an innocent victim, yes he was innocent, but not unwilling or unknowing. He could have rejected the Crucifixion at any time, but he didn’t. At his moment of greatest agony over it (in the Garden of Gethsemene) he prayed about it 3 times,and each time he came to the same conclusion, saying, “Father, not my will but yours be done.” For which we ought to eternally bless and praise him.

A point which is often missed is that Adam and Eve had received certain gifts from God which were forfeit when they choose to disobey God’s command. It is similar to you and your wife as parents receiving say a large diamond set in gold from your father. He told you it was a family heirloom and should be kept in a safe place, but it was so beautiful that you had it attached to a chain to wear out and about. One day in the park the chain broke and it slipped away and was lost never to be found. Now you had lost what was intended to be passed down to your children. No matter what, they could not inherit it. Just so our first parents lost that gift, the ability to enter paradise and share in the love of the Trinity, and could not pass it down to their descendants. But God was good and out of love devised a way to pass that ability on through Baptism. Through Baptism we receive that gift of Sanctifying grace that raises our human nature up so that we can share once again in that love that the persons of the Trinity have for each other. Original sin is not so much the having of something, but rather its loss, an inheirited incompleteness.

But there are many ways in which an “imperfection” of the parent isn’t passed down to the children: amputees don’t generally have legless children, for example. No child is born with the mental or physical scars of their parents… but you’re saying that a parent’s spiritual scars are passed down to his or her children?

So… to follow your analogy, if baptism is like “getting the diamond back”, why would the children of the baptised have to be baptised as well?

But there are many ways in which an “imperfection” of the parent isn’t passed down to the children: amputees don’t generally have legless children, for example. No child is born with the mental or physical scars of their parents… but you’re saying that a parent’s spiritual scars are passed down to his or her children?

No, that’s not what I’m saying. :slight_smile: I’m saying that the parents, Adam and Eve, lacked something they once had, and no one can pass on to another, be their children or anyone else, what they do not have, and yes, I mean spiritually not physically. That’s the kind of imperfection I’m talking about.

Besides, there are many disorders that are passed from parents to children even in the physical, still no analogy is going to be perfect when talking about one kind of imperfection, such as physical ones, as opposed to another kind, such as spiritual ones.

Adam and Eve passed on their fallen, wounded nature to their children, us. The evidence is all around us for that, from little children hitting each other over a toy to men and women slaughtering each other out of jealousy to tyrants holding their countries hostage to their whims. No one can deny that something is terribly wrong with the human race. True religion tells us what it is–original sin.

Baptism would seem senseless if taken out of the context that you mention. Unless you understood why proper hygene is necessary to ensure enhanced health, brushing your teeth would seem senseless.

For LapsedAtheist, The Catholic faith is an ancient faith but can only be properly understood from the perspective of God and His revelation to His people. If you do not believe in God no amount of explaination would suffice. It should all seem silly. Once you understand that God exists and come to wanting to know more about Him, then you can unpack His covenental relationship with His people. This will ultimately lead you to His Son, Jesus Christ. From there you will learn His message of love and understand why Baptism is so important.

I agree, dunking an infant in water is silly on its own. Baptizing a child into the death of Christ and allowing that newly anointed child of God to grow with Christ is not silly. It’s the most profound and beautiful action that life can offer. But you can’t program computers until you first learn how to turn one on… God Bless :slight_smile:

I think that in order to understand what is going on in this situation you have to separate the body from the spirit, then look at what is happening. I have often heard people say the same thing that the original poster said about innocent children being condemned. From my old Baltimore Catechism I recall that the resemblance that man bears to God is chiefly spiritual in nature not physical. So in knowing that I think we can safely say that the effect of baptism is aimed at the soul of the person not the body. We as humans really have no idea what the soul is, how it exists or anything at all about it except that it is our link with God. I personally doubt that God sees souls as babies, children, teenagers or adults at all. I think he sees them as souls in varying stages of spiritual growth and development and not in any human sense at all except superficially.

So, while in the physical life, a sin by the parent would not transmit to the child, at least not in our culture although others differ, a similar sin could very well be passed on in a spiritual sense. We know from scripture itself that God sees us and deals with us much differently than we do ourselves. He always has and always will. Trying to reconcile mans spiritual nature to his physical nature is something that people have spent thousands of years studying and no one has ever really managed to come to grips with it.

Now as an athiest, a relatively recent concept by the way, you probably don’t accept the existance of a soul in the first place. Would that be a fair statement? So, of course you would have difficulty in accepting anything that deals primarily with the spiritual side of existance no matter what is brought forth as an argument in support of it. It would be nearly impossible to accept or to even understand the effects of baptism, which while physically symbolic is totally spiritual in nature in that it leaves an indelible imprint on the soul. As to the communal nature of sin, I too have problems with that in regards to actual sin that we commit ourselves. Original Sin however is something totally different.

In essence all of our souls are connected to each other in some fashion and to God. The original sin committed by Adam and Eve, while physical in nature separated from them something special, that spiritual link with God. And since we all descend from them, it is broken for all of us. Baptism washes away that stain and restores the link. We can break it again of our own free will as Adam and Eve did, but God has given us the means to repair that damage, but we must have that mark on the soul in order to do that.

Now other Christian denominations have varying beliefs about Baptism. Some belief it to be symbolic only while others see it as a welcome into the community. But the historic belief of the Catholic Church is that it cleanses the stain of original sin and restores that link with God. A very necessary thing for salvation.

What I would recommend is that you examine yourself and see why you choose to deny the existance of the spiritual side of nature and of God himself if that is indeed your position I have seen over the years that many who claim the title of athiest are simply people who had a bad experience with religion of one form or another, **OR **people who believe that belief in God is no longer acceptable given our current level of civilization and knowledge. It is a very humanistic approach to life and extremely egocentric.

In any event, I wish you the best and assure you of my prayers.

As Catholics we believe that baptism is the first sacrament of initiation, since Jesus taught us that.

When you stated that we should not indoctrinate our children into a faith that they may not believe in by having them baptized…I would like to respond in this way.

Do you ask your children if they wish to be vaccinated? Begin vaccinations for most children in infancy to prevent them from suffering a disease. We do this knowing as their loving parents that we want the best and healthiest life for them.

Well as Catholic parents, in faith, we believe that by providing them the oppportunity to receive the beneficial graces offered by the sacraments, beginning with baptism, they have a greater chance at eternal happiness and being. Why would we deny them until they are older? Our Mother the Church is wise in following infant baptism.

Pray on it. Keep an open mind. Keep also an open spirit! May God bless you on this road of discernment.

It depends what you mean by “soul”. If you mean a person’s essence, identity, or that which you could not take away and still leave the person, then yes, I do. However, I believe that it’s inexorably linked to the physical form, and I don’t believe in an afterlife where souls wander around separate from their bodies.

That being said, I do believe that a person can metaphorically rise above their physical form through their actions, and can have life after death through the mark they leave on the world.

But aren’t baptism and Original Sin linked? According to the Church, isn’t Original Sin the reason behind the the necessity of baptism?

So if the link was broken then restored, why does Original Sin still perpetuate? How could a baptised person, cleansed of Original Sin, pass it to their children?

Personally, through my exploration and reading of the Bible, the Quaker belief of baptism seems to be the most consistent to me: that no outward ritual is required, and that “baptism” refers to the cleansing of the soul by the Holy Spirit, which is done at a time of Its own choosing, and can be a continual process rather than a single event.

My beliefs didn’t come from any sort of bad experience with religion (though since I began attending mass regularly with my wife, I have had a few bad experiences in the Catholic Church; I now refuse to kneel in mass since one particularly hate-filled homily on same-sex marriage, for example, which ironically happened on the same day that the Gospel reading was the Beatitudes… but my beliefs were rather solidified by that point). Most of my early exposure to religion was with my grandmother at her church and was generally positive; the worst I could say about it was that the services were occasionally boring.

And as far as the idea that society has somehow “outgrown” God, well, that doesn’t fit my mindset either.

The reason for my atheism is simple: I can find no reason for theism, despite what I consider to be earnest searching for one. I am certain that there is no god summoning me to worship him in any way, and I have seen no evidence for a deist-style passive god. To top it all off, I’ve seen what I feel are theological inconsistencies in every religion I’ve examined. For me, a belief in God would be as logical as a belief in the Tooth Fairy likely is for you.

I suppose I might be considered somewhat spiritual in a sense because of my feelings on issues like baptism. If I thought it didn’t matter, I suppose I could happily participate regardless of my personal beliefs.

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