Dear Donagh, My husband is sending you this question from both of us. Our daughter married a very nice boy two years ago…. We now have a 5 month old grandson….. We were waiting to be told about the baptism, but waiting we were. When I asked my daughter about it she said they're not going to have him baptised nor teach him any religion, but to let him decide for himself when he’s old enough. I was stunned. This doesn’t sound to me like my daughter’s thinking; it’s more her husband’s. But it is very troubling for us, it’s a fright to think that they have a little pagan in the house and they don’t care. They're doing everything for the baby except the most important thing. Is there anything I can say to her…? Maura
Dear Maura, Your daughter and her husband are thinking the same way that millions now think. At the present time, children (even babies) are often thought of as if they were adults, with equal say in everything that relates to them. If many adults are now confused about the identity of children, it is because they are confused about their own identity as adults and parents.
This confusion (or lack of self-confidence) has been a long time in the making. For many years now it has been open season on the family, especially on fathers. Various brands of psychotherapy have long romanticised children and blamed their parents for everything that went wrong in a child’s life. Even children’s cartoons portray fathers as selfish, incompetent clowns. This didn’t start with Homer Simpson (amusing though he is); I used to follow Dagwood Bumstead enthusiastically when I was a child. Dagwood’s specialities were snoozing on the couch, eating gigantic sandwiches, and being late for work. Joke-books are mostly cynical and corrosive on the subject of family. The last straw is when parents see that their children are better at computers and at programming a video recorder than they are. The show is over: they abdicate.
No human being is blameless, but parents are still blamed for everything that goes wrong in the life of a child. (I took the opportunity to expand on this in another page of this site: see ‘Jacob’s Well’.) After a few years of parenthood they discover with dismay that there are all-pervasive influences on their child over which they the parents are almost powerless. There is a popular culture, sometimes depraved in its values, that targets their children with precision. It is able to diffuse itself through all the most sophisticated means of communication. It is child-abuse on a wide scale.
It is naïve of young parents to believe that their child could somehow remain ‘neutral’ through all the years of his childhood and make an impartial judgment later on. Nature abhors a vacuum; the mind even more so. He will absorb without question, as if it were second nature to him, whatever is thrust on him without question. It’s like putting him in a sweet-shop and expecting him to eat nothing till he is old enough to make a rational choice between chocolate and whole-wheat bread. By the time he became a teenager he would have a solid foundation of chocolate! Would that in real life it were as harmless as chocolate! As soon as parents abdicate their responsibility (and even sooner), thousands rush in to fill the vacuum.
What can you do? I would suggest that you proceed by gently asking questions of your daughter rather than by making statements. If you talk only about religious practice they will reject your statements out of hand, no matter how valid. Tease out with her the consequences of the course of action - or rather inaction - that they are planning, keeping the good of the baby firmly in focus. You can pick out some examples of what abandonment to popular culture does to young people. Ask them if that is what they want for their child. Grandmothers are wisdom figures. Now is your time.
On the subject of infant baptism you might look at the article entitled “The Whole Apple” on this site, a few months ago (in ‘Jacob’s Well’). And keep praying for wisdom. God bless your work.