This is one post in a series called “Finding God.” You can read Chris Day’s entire series here.
From the moment I was conceived, I was Catholic. I had no choice and no say in the matter. I would estimate this is probably true for ninety-some percent of all Catholics. Yes, there are converts, but I can only think of two that I know personally. And, trust me, I know a whole lot of Catholics. Being born into a Catholic family is similar to being born into a Kentucky Wildcats family, or even into a flag-waving, fireworks-watching, Budweiser-drinking, red-blooded American family. YEE-HAW!
Catholicism is decided for you and you simply just grow into it. Like it or not.
From birth I was given two saint names to try to live up to. No big deal, right? I mean, one guy (supposedly) carried the Christ child across a river so he wouldn’t drown, thereby saving the life of the savior of the world. The other guy was pretty much Jesus’ best friend and most trusted companion. Talk about giving a kid big shoes to fill. To top it off, I happened to be born five days before Christmas. And, because it was the 70’s, women were allowed to stay in the maternity ward for nearly a week before going home. It was only fitting that I be brought home on Jesus’ birthday, shoved into a stocking, and laid beneath the Christmas tree for a perfectly timed photo op. I was one manger and three kings short of being treated like Bethlehem royalty. So, I did what any baby in my position would do. I proved my utterly flawed humanity by completely filling my diaper and stocking full of newborn poop. I hear it was a gigantic mess. I guess I simply couldn’t take the figurative (or literal) pressure.
Several weeks later my family draped me in a white gown and off we went to St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It was time for me to get rid of that pesky “original sin” thing that was hanging over my head. Catholic parents present their babies before the priest for baptism very early in life. Baptism is one of the seven sacraments and the first box to check off if you plan to get into heaven. The baptism of infants simply blesses the child and washes him or her from Adam and Eve’s original sin since we are all born with a sin nature. Typically, the parents do not wait long before getting their child sprinkled with the “holy water” just in case the unthinkable happens and the child was to somehow die. Which begs the question, “So then what?” What actually happens if a tiny baby does actually die before he or she is baptized? Are they heading straight to hell in a handbasket because of a sin committed thousands and thousands of years earlier? What about children who die in the womb? What about children who accidentally die during childbirth? The scenarios and questions go on and on.
Within a few weeks of being born, I already had some major issues with Catholicism. Obviously, at the time, I didn’t mind; I was just along for the ride. But looking back at decisions made for me, I have some issues with that. Now, I’m not naive enough to think that I couldn’t expect my parents to make decisions for me. After all, without their decisions and guidance and imposing their will on me, I would have died immediately. It’s what parents do. But imposing faith, especially religious faith, onto another human being seems careless at best. It removes individualism and free will from the get-go and immediately begins to box in a tiny human who hasn’t even had the chance to make any real-life decisions. To me, there’s a fine line between teaching a child that they cannot put a marble in their mouth because they’ll choke, and teaching a child that they must believe in the exact same supernatural world that their parents believe in. Because that exact same logic could justify raising children to be racists, or sexists, or homophobes, or any other potentially dangerous behavior. You cannot have it both ways. So either we’re okay with forcing our children into our exact walk of life, or we’re not.
Much like the Dark Crystal debacle, I began my jaded path into Catholicism. Sure, I hadn’t realized it yet because I was so young. But later in my life I would begin to look back and reevaluate everything I practiced and was taught. I would scrutinize every one of those decisions made for me when I was too young to decide myself. I should add that I do not fault my parents totally. They were trying to protect me, and I realize that. They had my best interests in mind, no doubt. But, like I said earlier, there are seven Catholic Sacraments, and I still had six more to go.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Lars Plougmann