For the good of their souls?

For some reason, a lot of people seem to be having their babies christened, in spite of the fact that that the babies have no conception of religion, and are thus unable to decide what they believe in. For me, the mere concept of Christening an infant child is is totally unethical, mainly because you’re submitting your infant child to a religion that they know nothing about yet, while they lack even the senses to think for themselves. To me, it’s just the same as taking advantage of an infant’s vulnerability in the name of religion, and that’s simply unacceptable in my eyes.


You’d think that there’s nothing wrong with this, but there is.

As an individualist, I believe that freedom of choice is the most important principle in human society. To deny this, therefore, is a grave crime against nature. I’ve heard that infant baptism is supposedly “for the good of their souls”, so that if anything bad happens to them “they won’t go to Hell”. For me, this has absolutely nothing to do with protecting an infant’s soul, and everything to do with conforming to archaic dogma that serves to do nothing other than impede social progress, and stifle free thought. I also find it silly that parents let their kids choose their religion when their older, but don’t let them decide for themselves when they’re younger. For me, freedom of religion should apply to everyone. After all, isn’t the soul a private matter?

The worst part is that a lot of people seem to have a “go with the flow” attitude. It’s the same “go with the flow” that allowed the church to rule Europe like a king during the Dark Ages, and people aren’t questioning that? I’m wondering if a lot of people who get their babies christened really believe in God at all, or if they’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses.

I have no problem with parents introducing religion to their children, but submitting your child to a religion before he or she can outwardly express their faith is crossing the line. If this is what it takes to preserve the outdated values of the church, then it’s clear to me that there’s simply no room in today’s world for a religion that hasn’t grasped the concept of free choice, and won’t for years to come.


4 thoughts on “For the good of their souls?

  1. It was certainly more imperative in the Middle Ages, but it’s not as though child death has become non-existent in the Western world, simply far more rare than it used to be. As an atheist, you obviously believe that baptism doesn’t do anything; when it comes to infant baptism, we happen to agree. My reasoning at that point is that, if it’s not forcing the child into anything, it’s as harmless as it is pointless. If it is seen as forcing the child into religious affiliation, then there’s a problem. The motivation of the parents having their infant baptised is more significant than the simple fact that they are having their infant baptised.

    In terms of cultural Catholic, the key factor is that identifying as a Catholic is more important than living as a Catholic. I don’t always agree with Catholicism, but I nevertheless respect those who profess to be Catholic while actually living it. On the other hand, I have little respect for those who simply call themselves Catholics while ignoring the teaching and commands of the Roman Catholic Church. A good point of reference here is the Catholic Catechism; if someone’s aim is something other than living according to the teaching set out in that document, you’re probably looking at a cultural Catholic (there is a difference between aiming to live and 100% successfully living; the genuine Catholic won’t always succeed in obeying the Catechism, but they’ll strive to). A Catholic who has no problem with sex outside of marriage, is comfortable with using birth control, visits psychics (or, at a lower level, believes in things like horoscopes and anything New Age-y), is pro-choice, doesn’t believe homosexuality is a sin, is fine with divorce and remarriage, doesn’t attempt to go to church each Sunday and festival day, etc… is, regardless of your personal perspective on each of those issues, not a faithful Catholic (and yes, I have met someone who calls herself Catholic and ticks every one of those boxes except pro-choice). They may fit into another denomination of Christianity, but they certainly aren’t adherents to Roman Catholic teaching. In those cases, the person doesn’t live as a Catholic, but they cling to the label of identifying as a Catholic anyway (usually out of a sense of family tradition – because everyone in their family has always been Catholic, they value labelling themselves Catholic even if the label is completely divorced from what it’s supposed to identify); that’s what a cultural Catholic looks like.

  2. So, to start with, I’m a collectivist Baptist (somewhat of an ironic combination, I’ll admit), so while I have strong disagreements with individualism, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Catholicism. Within Catholic doctrine, infant baptism makes perfect sense. They believe that baptism is salvific; the effect of baptism has nothing to do with the person being baptised, but with the sacrament of baptism itself. In order to even have a chance of salvation (whether via Purgatory or otherwise), one must be baptised. The least loving thing a Catholic parent could do is not get their child baptised, because then you’re playing the cosmic gamble that they’ll survive long enough to make their own choice (as an Australian, I’ve long been familiar with this classic poem [] that portrays that mindset). Baptism itself doesn’t save the child – ultimately that’s still up to their choices and actions down the track – and doesn’t force them to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church (it’s a necessary, but not sufficient, criterion), but it gives them a chance, and protects them should they die before they can make the choice.

    As a Baptist, I don’t believe baptism is salvific; baptism is a symbol in which someone who is mature enough to choose their faith proclaims it in a public setting (somewhat akin to a wedding ceremony; a wedding ceremony doesn’t create love between husband and wife, nor is it necessary for love between husband and wife, but it is a public proclamation of and commitment to love that is already there). From my perspective, I find infant baptism to be completely pointless, but mostly harmless. If baptism is a symbol that doesn’t effectually achieve anything, it doesn’t cause any harm to do it to a child, it just doesn’t achieve any benefit either.

    The problem with a lot of Catholic doctrine isn’t the doctrine itself though, it’s what that doctrine mutates into when it finds itself in the hands of cultural Catholics (those who find the term ‘Catholic’ to be an essential part of their identity, but who don’t adhere to Catholic teaching). For cultural Catholics, the most important thing about being a Catholic is calling yourself a Catholic; what you do after that is just about living life in a way that feels right. Baptism, in such a mindset, transforms from being merely necessary to being sufficient, because the cultural Catholic strips away the necessity of the other things (faith and works) that Roman Catholic doctrine teaches are necessary. To the cultural Catholic, baptising a child is sufficient to make the child Catholic; at this point, everything you’re criticising becomes very much a reality.

    I guess the reason I’m making this comment is because I distinguish quite strongly between devout Catholics baptising their children and cultural Catholics baptising their children; the motivation between the two makes a world of difference. Devout Catholic parents who baptise their children aren’t forcing their children to be Catholic, they’re merely doing what they can to protect their children until the children are old enough to make the decision for themselves. Cultural Catholic parents, on the other hand, are essentially making their children Catholic when they baptise them, and this I find rather objectionable.

    • From a religious perspective, your argument might make sense, but I find that it made more sense in the Middle Ages, when there was a real risk your child could die before he or she grew up, mainly due to the rampant risk of disease back in those times. Besides, as an atheist, I simply see the Catholic rationale as pretty sketchy, as with all other religions.

      By the way, what other characteristics do you notice in a “Cultural Catholic”?

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