My Son's Baptism

On Sunday, July 12, my oldest (13-year-old) son was baptized in a swimming pool. My other son (11) and daughter (9) had already been baptized at a Bible church two years ago while my oldest son was away on a Boy Scout campout. I wasn’t sure whether he would ever choose to be baptized: he has (understandably) expressed confusion to me about what to believe, and he doesn’t like to be in the public spotlight.

Though I continued attending an evangelical church with my family for four years following my deconversion, I dropped out in 2004. The rest of the family attends a local Bible church on most Sundays, but about once a month they meet at a “home church” with some friends in the neighborhood. Though I don’t attend the services, I do join the group for the Sunday noon meal afterward. It was at this home church that a spontaneous offer went out for anyone to be baptized at a nearby pool. I learned at the meal that my son had assented to be baptized (though I have reason to believe it was more out of social pressure than conviction). He expressed concern to me about the kind of questions he would be asked. I really didn’t feel like I could say much, so I told him it was up to him.

We all took off to the pool after the meal. There, the leader of the home church baptized a younger boy and then my son. The only question asked was, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for your sins?”, to which my son somewhat replied “Yes,” then received a dunking.

Afterward the leader (who knows what I believe) told me “Thanks,” to which I (as one who generally likes to be nice to others) instinctively replied, “Thank you.” Later I wondered if I had performed an initiation rite to another religion (or to atheism) for one of his sons, would he have said, “Thank you”? I doubt I was bothered as much by the situation as he would have been bothered by the converse. My own baptism at age 12 didn’t prevent me from leaving the fold later in life, nor does this recent event in itself mystically lock my son into anything irrevocable. Perhaps also I’m cognizant of the fact that I started out my marriage and family as a believer, so I don’t feel as peeved about it as if I had been a skeptic all along and my son had been pulled into fundamentalism out of the blue. Still, it’s a reminder of the fact that religion is relentlessly striving to claim as many as possible of its own, and that someday my son will be forced to make a decision about his direction. If I sit idly by, he will likely take the path of least resistance under this pressure, even if he remains inwardly confused about what to believe.

Even so, I’m not super worried: I was able to find my way out of faith without the support of either parent; at least my children have my example. And if they never see things my way, I can’t say that’s the outcome I desire, but I’ll love them all the same.

I’m sure I’ll hear from some who think I should take a harder line. It’s difficult to say what’s best, but one thing is sure: I love my wife and kids and don’t want anything to jeopardize our union. I will not hesitate to continue gently presenting my views to my children, but I will not force the issue to the detriment of our relationship. That’s the difference between my approach and that of Jesus, who said,

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ (Matthew 10:34-36).


Brother Crow said...

Ken, don't worry about what anybody else says (even me). It doesn't are the daddy, do what your heart says. I am as sick of atheist evangelists as I am of christian evangelists...or evangelists for any cause, for that matter. To all evangelists, of any cause, belief, doctrine or concern...fuck off! Everybody has to find their own way through.

But...since I am writing on this comment post, allow me to doesn't matter, anyway. Since there is no god who cares about that baptism crap anyway, it does not matter. At all. Makes no difference...even in the life of your son. As you note, he will get where he is going and where he will be.

All any of us can do is go with the current. It is all much bigger than we are.

Shygetz said...

I don't see why you would be super concerned about letting your son be baptized. It didn't change anything, but if you had said "No" it would have just made things worse. Just keep making yourself an example to him, and you'll have a good effect.

Joey said...

Great essay, Ken. I respect how you roll.

Rotten Arsenal said...

I was baptized when I was about 12 too. I obviously didn't really buy into it or get anything out of it. My Mom always said "the baptism just didn't stick." I guess if you really believe, it's one of those things that helps you convince yourself that something has changed.

My question has always been, why are children, some of whom are still infants, baptized when they have no concept of what is really going on? We make a big deal about how a 12 year old is mature enough to have sex, drive a car, drink alcohol, or vote, but they are mature enough to decide on which, if any, god is the right one to follow? There's a double standard there that doesn't make sense. You aren't mature enough to be able to handle a glass of wine, but you seem okay enough to make a decision for the destination of your eternal soul, despite all the conflicting beliefs? I'm not buying it.

Ty said...

Rotten arsenol wrote, "We make a big deal about how a 12 year old is mature enough to have sex, drive a car, drink alcohol, or vote"

I'll be sure to leave my children at home when visiting your state ;) Let's all pray to God you meant NOT mature enough (yes, tongue in check).

Andre du Plessis said...

Yes an interesting point and one I also struggle with. I have decided (living in a strong Christian community) not to let my sons stand out and take them through the Christian rituals (except we don't go to church, but I allow the schools their beliefs - in my country our schools still teach belief systems) Although when they come with stories of the devil I quickly denounce it and I try to make them see Jesus as just a prophet and make them pray to God rather (why try to make them also see God as something inside them rather than an entity up on the clouds). I figured like Santa Claus they can believe in it until they are at an age where they start questioning their beliefs. Then I have hundreds of books for them to read that will break down the fantasy.

oli said...

Interesting point on you thanking the pastor but thinking he wouldn't thank you. I think you handled the situation calmly because you KNOW that this is a silly ritual that doesn't mean or do anything. Rituals only have power when you believe in them, without "buying in", all rituals, even graduations seem a little bit silly.

But to the pastor, this ritual is a sacred and deeply meaningful experience. If you did a similar ritual to introduce his children to another religion i do indeed believe he would be most put out. He believes in these rituals, to him they are important, a ritual on his children would be a significant event. To you, its all just a little silly. You know that you were baptized and left the fold. It means nothing.

I too was baptized, although in good old church of England fashion, i was too young to object at the time (being only a month or two old). It doesn't really bother me though, a bloke in robes splashing water on my head doesn't mean a damn thing to me in 2008.

John W. Loftus said...

Ken, you seem like a very reasonable man. You did good. Keep the gentle reminders flowing though, as you can.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi ken,
I think you did the right thing.
One thing I've noticed is that I've caused some others to loosen their grip just by asking them critical questions and not providing any answer. Then if they don't get the question, I'll unpack it, but I don't give my opinion, I just point out that I don't get it and politely listen to them wrestle with it as they struggle to reconcile it. Kind of like a computer virus.

Here's one, where does adam fit in history?

How does it affect Jesus sacrifice if Adam is just a metaphor?

or "did you know the Koran says that Jesus survived?"

or how do we know that islam, judaism or hinduism is false?

Here's a good one. When the opportunity presents itself, ask if Jesus was part human, then ask them what a human sacrifice is, then after they give an answer, ask what is the difference between human sacrifice and Jesus's sacrifice.

Rotten Arsenal said...

Oh crud... that's what happens when I try and write things before bedtime... that should read:

"We make a big deal about how a 12 year old is NOT mature enough to have sex, drive a car, drink alcohol, or vote"

Man, that one word really screwed up my whole point

Matt S said...

I too have family that are more christianity-inclined than I. I try to gently pressure my siblings, but obviously I don't want to alienate them. Really though, more than anything, I just want them to acknowledge evolution...

Ken Daniels said...

Thanks for the feedback! I agree with most of the comments: this event doesn't mean anything objectively; he just went into the water and came back out--that's all there is to it. Subjectively, though, it is infused with meaning for the family and perhaps to some extent for my son. Thanks for the confirmation that I'm on the right track; I'll just continue using gentle persuasion when appropriate.

Interesting thoughts, rotten arsenal. I did catch your meaning the first time, even without the missing "not". Those are also the sentiments of Richard Dawkins. I fully agree that none of us should should be indoctrinating our children or initiating them into different camps before they're ready to make up their own mind. Yet I'm also uncomfortable with forcing parents *not* to do this. No matter how you slice it, someone's liberty has to be compromised: either the parents' (to indoctrinate their children) or the children's (to make up their mind in their own good time). Somehow there has to be a balance between the two, but I'm not sure where it is.

Brother Crow said...

Another comment from the Crow: one of the great crimes of christianity is its pursuit of and exploitation of children. Infant baptism, the baptism of Ken's son (without any real process with parents or with the child about what he was initiation ritual without the facts or fictions about what the initiation means to somebody somewhere), children's ministries (puppets, Donut Man, Psalty the Singing Psalmbook..."Praaaaaaaise the Lord!"), teaching kids to say "Praise Jesus" when they are two (anybody see "Jesus Camp"?).

I could go on and is a horror of serial proportions. I had a friend who taught his son to say "praise Jesus" when he was about 2. I argued with him that the kid had no idea what he was doing, he was responding to the vocal/audio stimuli. He denied it. I turned to his son and said "heil hitler" in the same lilting tone of "praise Jesus." The kid raised his hands!!!!

Shame on christianity for blatantly indoctrinating children - not in reasonable thought about faith (duh???) - but emotional exploitation, tribal identity, parental and adult approval (without which, their instincts tell them they will die).


Mark Lefers said...

Ken, great essay. I can really see the love you have for your family. I'm at the beginning stages of what you've gone through. I was married and started my family as a believer. Now I'm deeply struggling with doubt, to the point of calling myself "semi-agnostic". I fear I will have to make similar judgment calls in raising my kids. Who knows, it could very well be our kids who reconvert us.

Matt, I would push the evolution belief over trying to deconvert your siblings. It may be an easier fight. Also religious beliefs may be more deeply engraved.