I’ve thought about writing this post since the minute I knew you were growing inside me. Actually, even before that. The topic is incendiary. And really, it isn’t appropriate for anyone to question your mother on this subject, but by virtue of your mother being white, American and of a Catholic lineage, it is a subject that comes up often. What it is, Eva, what it is that YOU need to know, is why I did not baptize you.
First and foremost, I am not a believer in organized religion (gasp!). The compulsion to be respectful of others’ beliefs has been indoctrinated into my psyche since the 1990 Temple Mount riots (a.k.a as long as I can remember), yet more recently I have questioned even this practice. Should I, especially as a mother, respect the beliefs of the followers of a Pope who does not respect a man’s marriage to another man? Should I turn a blind eye to the ubiquitous practice of child rape by “god’s messengers?” Can I maintain my own moral dignity by becoming one of these followers? Or, most importantly, could I look myself in the mirror and respect who I see if I subject my intellectually nascent offspring to an unwilling participation in his or her own indoctrination? This whole idea of mutual respect becomes a dialectical impossibility when its premise hinges on a condescension of human rights and morality.
Eva, here’s the thing. You may study the world as you grow and decide that you will pursue a monastic path. You may become an ascetic. You may become an atheist. And you may become a Buddhist. But it is not my job as your mother to choose this path for you. It is my job to teach you critical thinking, to cultivate patience and pique your natural inquisitiveness. I will encourage you to read the bible, but to also read Darwin. I will take you to the Hagia Sophia, and also to the Vatican. I will not tell you that Catholicism is wrong, I will only tell you to respect every single fellow human being’s rights first and foremost, and whatever you choose to believe in will follow. I will also tell you that just because a person believes in genital mutilation or jihad, this does not mean you should respect their beliefs. It is humanity that you should respect, Eva, not a belief system.
Now, darling, there are also some specific questions I would like to address, as I assume you will be faced with similar moral interrogations. This is what I have to offer on these subjects:
Q: How can you have a Christmas Tree or an Easter Basket when you don’t believe in Jesus?
A: Well, well, Mr. Holy Man, I challenge you to brush up on your Christmas Tree and Easter Basket knowledge. They are both historically rooted in paganism, so how appropriate that I would host them in my home!
Q: Well how can you celebrate Christmas or Easter at all?
A: The same way you can. Did you go to confession last week? Did you avoid meat every Friday during Lent? Didn’t think so. Oh- and last time I checked, both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny have become the very icons of American materialism and the secularization of these holiday celebrations. A real Catholic would give on these holidays, not take, isn’t that right?
Q: How can you not baptize your child!? How can you not offer her CHOICE? (this is my favorite of all)
A: Since when was choosing an incredibly narrow, archaic and paternalistic moral code for my child a denial of ethical choice? I don’t see any reason to elaborate on this topic any further.
Q: Just baptize her. It will make everyone happy and what’s a little dumping of water on her head to you?
A: That water symbolizes a great hypocrisy on my behalf. I will never, ever, never compromise my own moral code for the happiness and/or comfort of another human being. I hope to teach my child to abide by these same virtues.
Eva, I am certain of very few things in this world, but this is one of them:
Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience. -Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great
Eva, I have many hopes and dreams for you, my girl. I hope that love will be your religion, that tolerance will be your edict and that knowledge will lead your path. I hope that you will focus on your legacy, not heaven. I hope you will fear for posterity, not hell. And I hope that you will find comfort in my love, not the confession booth. But if it is Catholicism that you choose, I hope you do so willingly.
With Much Love & Admiration,