Friday, July 10, 2009

Rituals of my people

Last Sunday I went to the christening of my cousin's second son. It was a full church service, and was rather well attended by various family members and friends of the proud parents. The kid is very sweet. All told, a nice day out.

So what's bugging me?

Well, like I say, this was a proper church service. It's actually quite a while since I've been to a church except as a tourist, so this took some getting used to. And, after spending years discussing religion in blogs and forums, I found myself with a very strong urge to hit the "reply" button...

I was amused by the Bible reading that included Matthew 13:47-49a and carefully airbrushed out the less family-friendly Matt 13:49b-50. I was mildly irritated by the liturgical question-and-answer format - what if you don't agree with the prescribed answer*?

And I was actually rather bothered by the content of the liturgy. There are several parts that to a non-Christian like myself are a bit disturbing. For example:

Faith is the gift of God to his people.
In baptism the Lord is adding to our number those whom he is calling.
People of God, will you welcome these children and uphold them in their new life in Christ?
All: With the help of God we will.

I'm sorry, but this child is not old enough to be considered one of "our number". He's part of your community, sure, but at his age you can't meaningfully say he subscribes to your beliefs. Beliefs come later. And he might not share your views even when he grows up. Talk about counting your chickens before they hatch...

The entire liturgy is founded on the assumption that, if you're born into a particular family or community, you're going to grow up as a Christian. I reject that assumption. The kid will follow his own path and, as a responsible relative, I'll support him whatever that path might be.

If he becomes an atheist then that's cool. If he becomes a Christian then fair enough. If he becomes a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or goat-sacrificing Satanist then I'll still be on his side. Any other attitude is reprehensible.

If atheism's popularity increases, I foresee a day when we'll start to develop rituals and liturgies of our own. When that day comes, there will be a lot we can learn from the Christian versions.

In the case of child baptisms, I hope we learn what not to say...

* I handled this situation by just not saying anything while everyone around me muttered their responses. Who says I'm not tactful? Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I saw some other folks doing the same thing.

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