Sunday, August 22, 2010


My daughter has been asking about baptism and our beliefs a lot lately. The baptism discussion spurred on by the book Are You There God, It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume; our beliefs discussion came about because we have been visiting another church. 

At this age of child development it is normal for a child to adopt the same beliefs as the family. Kids require a foundation of what they believe as it gives them peace and helps them make sense of the world. Besides, if kids do not have a foundation they can understand (religion, science, or some hybrid) they risk being caught up in any old cult or crazy belief that comes along. However, my wife and I –– despite the implication that we are imposing our will on our daughter –– feel that our daughter needs to be exposed to varying perspectives on life and religion so she can create her own theological beliefs. As her parents, it is our job to help guide her toward good and rational and nondiscriminatory belief systems.

We asked about baptism at our former church. Children must be in sixth grade and go through a class to prepare them for such a decision. Most choose baptism but some do not. I believe a class is important, even required, to help the children come to understand their decision. I think if a child is seriously asking they should be supplied the information and opportunity. I believe an arbitrary grade restraint serves only to push away an inquisitive child and is counter to most educational theories.

The real problem with baptism, in regards to our former church, is the credo that one must believe in order to be baptized. Here is the belief system that one must claim in order to be baptized in our former church, as quoted from the website forwarded to us by the current minister:

Baptism is a public act by which the church proclaims God’s grace, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the use of a visible sign of God’s gracious initiative and the human individual’s response in faith. With other Christians we affirm that baptism is at once a divine gift and a human response.

Baptism, as a gift of grace, received by faith, expresses its meaning in a variety of images: new birth; a washing with water; a cleansing from sin; a sign of God’s forgiving grace; the power of new life now and the pledge of life in the age to come. The meaning of baptism is grounded in God’s redemptive action in Christ, it incorporates the believer in the community in the body of Christ, and it anticipates life in the coming age when the powers of the old world will be overcome, and the purposes of God will triumph.

  1. This credo forces one to believe that Jesus was the human form of God on Earth. This is something we simply do not believe.
  2. It assumes that we are sinners, evil, and in need of constant redemption. We do not put upon our daughter any guilt theology. 
  3. This credo also requires a belief that God gives us some divine gift through a symbolic tradition. We do not believe that we got a job because God willed it, children with disabilities are born to sinful parents as a punishment from God, or that God opened up a parking space because I just prayed for it. (All of these are actual beliefs from actual persons I know directly.)

We spoke to our daughter about this credo and what it means. Upon discovering what she had to believe in order to be baptized, she was much less enthusiastic. For goodness sakes, a 10-year-old scoffs at the idea of a virgin miraculously popping out a baby (let alone a God) and she laughs at the idea of a whale swallowing a man only to spit him up later. She is quite aware of the acidic digestive system and the fact that whales have comb teeth.

Some Christian churches may not actually believe these things either, but they do not actively discuss these issues for fear of losing people and money. They present these issues from time to time, but they are introduced as subtext. Southern Baptism minister Clayton Sullivan wrote  about the division between orthodox Christianity and the post-Enlightenment Christian scholarship in his book "Rescuing Jesus from the Christians":

"Two groups, however, are negatively affected by the conflict between post-Enlightenment scholarship and entrenched orthodox Christianity. One group negatively affect are members of the clergy who received their theological training at seminaries where they were exposed to contemporary biblical scholarship (the kind of scholarship encountered at schools like Emory University in Atlanta and the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge). Before attending seminaries they innocently assumed there was an obvious or normative Christian gospel. But after acquiring a seminary education, they ponder the question: What is the gospel? Discombobulated, they spend their entire professional lives in a quandry. They slip and slide when expounding the kingdom of God to their parishioners. In this regard they resemble pigs dancing on ice. While preaching on race relationships, they circumvent Jesus' opinion that Gentiles are dogs. While preaching about Jesus dying on the cross as a sacrifice for mankind's sins, they inwardly grope for an atonement theory that would make sense out of what they proclaim. Their mouths and minds are not connected. Unsure of what the gospel is, these pastors employ gospel substitutes."

I am not interested in going to a church that is too fearful of simply presenting other scholarly and religious ideas or paths to God. I want to speak about these ideas openly and discuss them and leave open the opportunity for multiple beliefs by different people. I want a more courageous and open community that will offer the congregation the seminary experience. I do not want subtext or hidden messages. I do not want to be forced to believe that Jesus is a God, nor am I willing to force my family to undergo guilt theology just to be baptized, even if that guilty theology is only presented during baptism. No one in our home believes in the inherent evilness or sinfulness of humans. We make good choice and we make bad choices and we live our lives in an attempt to do more good that harm and learn from our mistakes. Sin is fine for those who want it, but guilt theology (even in minute amounts) is not for us. 

So I guess she's decided that baptism is not for her. Or at least that is what she indicated this morning. She is 10, so that might change, but I suspect it won't. We will continue our religious education by learning about many different belief systems and continue to support goodness over all things and love as a foundation for those good beliefs and works. 


Jeremy D. Young said...

I don't go to church, but it is not because I don't believe in redemption and its necessity. I think the American Church is fundamentally flawed. On one side, you have huddles of people attempting to perfect themselves and others around them, and on the other, you have consumerist mega churches that don't do anything but inspire the collection buckets.

I'm just curious, what do you see Jesus "doing for you" that you still believe something about him?

admin said...

Jesus, like Ghandi and a host of other great leaders served as an example of how to behave. Still, he is nothing more than a dead guy. A great and wonderful guy, but dead. He does nothing FOR me. I simply admire many of his qualities. I do things for me. My friends do things for me. My family does things for me. I don't need God to do right (as often as I can).

Sky Girl said...

I recently told a long-time friend who is a pastor that I now consider myself to be agnostic. He responded that there are a great many agnostics attending Christian churches, some even pastoring them, who just don't have the nerve to come right out and say it.

Jeremy D. Young said...

My main question is this: What's so great about Jesus if he claimed to be God, but wasn't, claimed to be the way to salvation, but isn't, etc?

What does Jesus have to offer except lies and lunacy if the Bible is the best record of his life that we have?

What other sources do you read that would give you guidance to your life from what Jesus said or did?

If Jesus wasn't God, who cares What Jesus Would Do? All he did was piss off the Jews and get crucified.

I personally believe the entire Bible is a story of how humans, even in the most privileged and closely guided situations (Israel, Old Testament), screw things up, and need salvation from God's wrath, and into his mercy. I don't believe people need to be guilt ridden to accept and appreciate salvation, just come to that realization. I believe that Jesus doesn't offer a life of guilt, but a life of freedom.

I also believe as I said in my first post that the American Church (basically all denominations) is broken and for the most part ineffective, useless, and worse, damaging to the name of Jesus.

I think that Christians should rise up and (without Government) feed the poor, clothe the naked, and offer healing to the sick. This should be done through rehabilitation centers, charity hospitals, shelters etc. If they aren't doing these things, then they aren't serving Christ.

admin said...

Sky Girl: Read "Rescuing Jesus from the Christians". He basically says the same thing. I want a more authentic church (for lack of a better term). I want a place that looks at the world and takesthe good from as many places, traditions, religious beliefs as possible to make for the better of us all.

admin said...


You answered the question for me. What does Jesus provide us (if he's not a God and our Savior)? He teaches us to "feed the poor, clothe the naked, and heal the sick". That's what he does for me. He is nothing more than Ghandi or MLK or other great leaders. I don't need him to be a deity for me to do good, think good and try like hell to be good. Some folks need the "If I don't do this I'll go to hell" kind of religion. Others need a "Please save me from my inherent evilness." I don't need or want either. Both ideals (in my opinion) are part of guilt theology and I am tired of the guilt. I've had enough. The Christians have, and I speak only for myself here, completely chased me away from Christianity.

All I want is to be part of a community that believes in doing good for goodness' sake.

Jeremy D. Young said...

You're not alone in being driven away from Christ by Christians. I think most Christians can't actually abide in the Grace of God, they have to make themselves more righteous, so they build up rules upon rules, expecting outward compliance while ignoring the insides of our minds and souls.

I'm not really trying to disagree with you in general. I do think that there is such a thing as believing in sin and salvation, and not living in guilt. I believe that we are saved from guilt, and saved from legalism (purchasing goodness with our works) by Christ.

I know that your journey is not over, and I do not consider myself to have arrived either. Thank you for sharing with us :)

Granny said...

You may want to try the Unitarian Church. There, your spiritual journey will be respected and encouraged.

Sky Girl said...

admin, you find that church, you let me know. I just can't bring myself to go anymore. Everywhere I went people were saying something judgemental about somebody. Or guilting somebody about something.