Baptism of fire: were you pressured to christen your baby?

Baptism is the introduction of a person into the Church community
Baptism is the introduction of a person into the Church community 

There was no chance I would have entered the State of Limbo should I have passed away as an infant. I was christened, for this reason, and this reason alone. Actually, my mother now describes it as superstition resulting from religious brainwashing. She was too scared not to have us baptised for fear we would be doomed should the unspeakable occur.

Seems preposterous now I’m an adult and best described as a lapsed Catholic. What kind of narcissistic God would deem a tiny baby ineligible for entry into Heaven because they were not cleansed of original sin before they died? 

However, that’s a fight for another day.

Thankfully, my mother’s opinions on the topic matter had no bearing over our decision not to christen our own children. She would never dream of influencing such a personal decision. If you’ve read my article about CRE in Primary Schools, you will understand that I married a staunch atheist. For us, the question of christening was never raised; it was not relevant to our situation. Perhaps we are fortunate to freely follow our own beliefs and to be alleviated of the often divisive expectation of wider family values.

The pressure to christen your baby when you don’t believe in it seems like a non-issue to a non-believer. Unfortunately for some, it is not this straightforward. When parents (or grandparents) strongly believe in the symbolism behind it, the idea that you wouldn’t christen your child is unimaginable for them. So, what do you do when you don’t support the idea, but your family corners you into a decision? The dreaded confrontation could end in a showdown of mass proportions, which could make you question if the resistance is substantiated. 

It will please (or appease) your parents or in-laws and you are neutral on the topic, so should you just do it? Or would that be hypocritical to enter into an agreement with the church about following a religious path that you have no intention of maintaining just to keep the peace? 

I have friends who have found the family rivalry is not worth the pain. They’d rather go through the motions and keep everybody happy. One friend asserted, “Is it symbolic if it has no meaning to you or your child?” She viewed it simply as a welcoming of the child, with a party afterwards. She and her husband essentially ignored the religious connotations – the very values that initially prompted the pressure from family. 

For some of my friends who have experienced the unsolicited requests to have their child christened, it is a battle worth fighting. To engage in a ceremony that pledges a faith they do not possess is too much to adopt when the belief behind it is absent. Many parents have resisted the propaganda and strongly defended their stance: “our child, our decision”. Not easy when the topic matter is so charged, and emotionally driven by influential family members. 

Another angle is the preferential treatment of christened children from schools of particular denominations. In certain institutions baptism is a prerequisite for eligible entry, leaving parents worried they are locking their children out of prospective educational options by not baptising their babies. I can’t say I comprehend this line of thinking. Surely if you wanted to send your child to a school of a particular faith, it would be for more than solely the education it offers but the religion it purports as well? Therefore baptism would be a natural step of faith as opposed to a strategic move. Families who baptise because they believe in the biblical or theological commitment can understandably read this “baptism for schooling decisions” as a mockery of their faith. 

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Some families are opting for “dedications” rather than baptisms, the theory behind this is an acknowledgement of the faith in front of family and friends, rather than baptism, which is viewed as a conscious choice the person makes (many argue this is impossible for an infant).

In modern day, there are other options available which seem to be middle ground solutions. Drawing attention away from religious rituals to other traditions, such as welcoming ceremonies and naming days, are increasingly common, potentially for their placation value. These can be spiritual guides but not specifically attached to a religion, leaving that decision for the child to make once they are older and more thoroughly conversant in commitments required of the specific religion.

I waded through some fairly hefty religious jargon and gospel passages to pinpoint a solid explanation for the purpose of infant christening. The language used is often emotive (“Mothers, baptize your babies now before it is too late” BibleProbe; “Baptism is the introduction of a person into the Church community. He or she is dedicated to God and all that is good” Catholic Australia) and there are varying viewpoints from it being a public commitment of faith, to the imperative washing away of original sin. As an outsider, I remain dazed and confused about its core purpose, completely bamboozled by the abundance of conflicting literature.

Ultimately in the murky pond of parenting, this is yet another discussion that generates ripples well beyond the parents themselves. It may be idealistic to think we live in a world of diversity and difference of beliefs, and respecting each other’s choices should be standard practise rather than an exercise of goodwill. Families are infinitely more complicated than that with their eclectic mix of values, traditions and experiences. I don’t know many people who want to deliberately upset or offend their own parents by ignoring their strong held views, but standing up for your offspring to cement your own personal beliefs is certainly something to be celebrated. 

Were you pressured to christen your baby? Did you succumb or resist? What were your reasons? Have your say in the Essential Baby forum