My children, a 3-year-girl and a 1-year-old boy, aren’t baptized.
Many people take issue with this parenting decision — especially the people I know from my days as a devout, practicing Catholic. Most of the judgment comes through passive-aggressive comments. Some folks, though, have no problem telling me to my face what a great disservice I’m doing my children. One woman actually told me my children would likely go to hell because of my choice. She didn’t say it maliciously. But she did say it with all the urgency one usually reserves for, say, letting an oblivious stranger in the street know they are about to get plowed over by a car they don’t see coming.
My mom is also concerned. Initially, she was downright combative about the whole baptism thing. “Aren’t you happy with the experience you had growing up? Don’t you want that for Emma?” she asked when I informed her my wife and I wouldn’t be raising our firstborn — or any future children — Catholic. Not only did I attend Catholic school for 13 years, from kindergarten straight through high school, I also immersed myself in all religious amenities such an upbringing afforded me. I was an altar boy and a church reader. I played the part of Jesus Christ during our grade school’s Easter play and developed a serious crush on the girl who played Mary Magdalene, just as I imagine the real JC must have done in his day. I even strongly considered going into the priesthood.
Gradually, however, I lost faith in my faith. There were too many unanswered questions, too many problematic absolutes, too much fearmongering and way too much hypocrisy. For a religion that placed such a premium on loving thy neighbor, it sure had a lot of restrictions on whom you were allowed to love. When the priest sex-abuse scandal broke — a scandal the scope of which we’re still learning about — I knew I’d never return.
These days, the argument with my mom has shifted slightly. “It doesn’t have to be Catholic, Jar, but you need to have Emma and Jake baptized in some type of faith. They need a foundation. They gotta have something,” my mom will say, pivoting the conversation away from whatever mundane subject we’re discussing and directly into the choppy waters of the battle for my children’s souls.
“We’re seriously considering Buddhism right now. Would that work for you?” I asked my mom once, half-seriously. She didn’t answer, but her silence said it all.
If my wife and I end up raising our children agnostic, which I’m sure is right up there on my mom’s list of top fears with the show “Homicide Hunter” being canceled, we have no intention of not talking about God and religion and faith. We want our kids to have a solid understanding of all religions. Just as importantly, we want them to have respect for what others believe. After all, the Golden Rule is something that should be instilled in all children, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.
And although we haven’t entirely ruled out finding a church (or mosque or temple or whatever) for our family, it’s not exactly at the top of our to-do list. The last thing we want to do is pick a faith under some vague notion that subscribing to any type of religion, even one in which we both don’t fully believe, is better than having no religion all. I don’t want to choose a religion the same way I purchase a warranty for a major appliance, out of a vague fear that not having it could hurt me in the long run and in spite of my instincts telling me what I’m signing up for is probably a scam.
So for now the plan is to expose our children to everything, spiritually speaking, to honestly answer any questions they may have about God and religion, and to let them choose for themselves. It’s not a perfect strategy for helping my children tackle the many existential crises they’ll no doubt face, but it’s the best one we have at the moment. My wife and I are toying with the idea of casually dropping into a service here and there, so our children can get a clear picture of how different faiths worship. We’ve already accompanied some family to their Sunday Mass. Maybe we’ll do the same with a few more of our friends until we’re comfortable enough to go it alone.
My dad started taking me to see live music when I was young. I saw Livingston Taylor (“Fire and Rain” Jimmy’s brother) before I was even 10, and B.B. King and Dr. John well before I could drive a car. He exposed me to folk, jazz, blues, soul, rock and some avant-garde Swiss harp player named Andreas Vollenweider. I hope to do something similar with my children — with both music and religion — because the effect that exposure had on me was profound. To this day, I have a deep respect for all types of music. Okay, maybe not all types. (Ahem, bro country.) But you get the point.
If my wife and I handle religion the right way, and if my children choose to join a church of their own some day, hopefully they’ll feel comfortable asking Mom and Dad to go with them occasionally.
My mom will be disappointed to read this, but she shouldn’t be. See, she gives far too much credit to my Catholic “experience” in terms of my development. I learned far more about being a good person from my mom than from any of the priests, nuns or teachers I encountered during my time in Catholic school. She didn’t just tell me about Jesus’ “do unto others” commandment, she lived that mantra each and every day — and it’s what I hope to do for my own children. That type of foundation matters far more than what church you belong to or whether you’re baptized because, in the end, actions will always speak louder than words, even the words of the Bible.
Jared Bilski is a Pennsylvania-based writer and comedian. Follow him on Twitter @JaredBilski.
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