This was one of the first questions my mother asked me when I started bringing my baby daughter over to their house for Sunday dinner every week.
My mom is a lifelong Catholic and a supernumerary for Opus Dei, a prelature of the Roman Catholic Church. I already broke her heart when I became a born-again Christian to marry my husband. Truth be told, I probably broke it up in many iterations when I rebelled against the Catholic faith, picked fights with religion teachers, and decided I was an atheist/agnostic (I would vacillate between both) by the tail end of college.
By the time she asked me that question, I already knew I was putting myself in treacherous waters. I must be a special sort of masochist because I’d rather have difficult confrontations than lie about my beliefs.
“We’re not. We don’t believe in infant baptism.”
“We believe that you have to choose to be baptized. You have to want to become a Christian, not just because your parents are. We’ll do a child dedication but there’s no rush and we plan to have it done on her first birthday.”
My mom was ready to launch into her rebuttal but after years of having similar altercations, I chose to see her righteous indignity as concern for her granddaughter’s heavenly salvation. My face was perfectly placid.
My mom started sputtering about how it’s the parents’ responsibility to place their children under the wings of the church to raise them morally and yes, to guarantee their salvation. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that child dedications function almost the same way, sans the rite. I don’t believe in making life decisions under the prospect of reward or punishment.
I just told her that my daughter is under my jurisdiction and my family has its own way of doing things. It was similar to a speech I gave about my decision to water birth with midwives and it’s funny how both topics ignited my mother’s blood pressure because both involved “mortal peril.”
I came from a time where I was expected to carry on my parents’ beliefs among social circles that believed the same thing. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, had Catholic friends, and that was it. If you’re the sort that benefits from templates and guides and being surrounded by people upholding them, life can be much simpler. I envy that sometimes.
You’d think the same modes of thinking would apply to our current religious beliefs but you couldn’t be more wrong. We’re religious but we think organized religion behaves too much like political and corporate institutions. The character of Jesus keeps drawing us back in though. We like imagining how Jesus would go about doing church in the 21st century and we still see him going elbow deep with the marginalized and oppressed.
It cascades down to our other beliefs. We are also pro-choice, feminist, and egalitarian. We have socialist beliefs yet have free enterprise leanings. We see God in science. We believe the concept of gender fluidity. In short, my husband and I dance in gray areas and make no apologies for it.
I don’t expect my daughter to believe the same things we do, especially when it comes to the realms of faith. We can do our best to share and impart what we think is right, but we believe in giving her the right to choose. Belief is an act of will. There’s no point in assuming the motions of religion if you don’t believe it yourself.
We believe that faith is a relationship. Relationships are built organically. To get deeper into it, faith is also a love story and falling in love is not falling in love if there is no free will. This is how God and spirituality became a big part of who I am.
It’s a pleasure and challenge for us to introduce this to our daughter. For a former atheist/agnostic, I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s the greatest joy and comfort my life has ever known.
It occurred to me that beneath the surface of our ideological differences, my mother must have felt the same.
“If it means that much to you, you can baptize her. Anyone can do it, right? With a bowl of water?”
I’m reminded of how we’re just another mother-daughter pair trying to love the best way we know how.