Chapter 6 – Born Catholic or Born Free?

In the first couple of months of life, babies in my family are baptized. This is a ritual where the parents and two of their best friends (godparents) verbally commit to educating the child under Catholic doctrine. It includes an exorcism, where the priest will place some oils on the baby or sometimes just his hands on forehead and then the parents will “renounce Satan.” This ceremony also serves to name the child and, maybe most importantly, will pardon all sins, including Original Sin.

Sin is an offense against God. If someone dies while being “in sin” that person will either go to purgatory (if the sins are minor or “venial”) or will go straight to hell forever (if sins are grave or “mortal”). Original Sin is the Catholic belief that because Adam and Eve fucked up, thereafter all their lineage (every single human) would be born into the world “in sin”, and separated from God.

So, all the millions of people who lived and died between Eve and Jesus were not going to heaven. Then Jesus came and instituted baptism, and declared: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (John 5:3)

Although Catholicism is quite literal in the importance and effects of the Sacrament of Baptism, I think most Catholics I know don’t really believe their baby was born in sin and could be impaired of going to heaven if not baptized. Most wait a few months after birth, and plan a party around the religious act, usually a brunch with only the closest family and friends (which typically means 40–100 invitees). Gifts for the baby are common, usually with religious connotation. I got a crucifix for my wall and a tiny Jesus and Mary pendant that I wore on my neck throughout my childhood.

Beyond Baptism, babies in my family are exposed to Catholic beliefs and rites constantly. Baby rooms typically include some religious decoration, like a painting of the Virgin or a crucifix, and babies usually wear a silver or gold necklace with an image or crucifix, making Catholicism a part of life even before they know how to sit up. I remember my mom had this “Sacred Heart” pendant, and I vaguely remember me asking about it and her telling me that when Jesus died for our sins it caused Mary so much pain it was like a knife piercing through her heart… I didn’t even flinch, just thought it was normal. Why should I freak out if she had it on since I was born and she seemed so chill about it?

I don’t have much recollection of my first few years of life, but I have seen how my little nieces have been brought up…

I’m in my 30’s visiting my parents’ house, talking about work or politics, or watching an early evening Seinfeld rerun. The doorbell rings, my mom’s eyes LIGHT UP, she runs to the intercom “YES! Come in!” then she rushes downstairs to meet my sister who’s brought my one year-old niece to visit. She’s ecstatic to see her, takes her in her arms and starts making baby noises.

Just like yesterday, and the day before, and just as every time, my mom takes my to the Virgin Mary statue in the front garden, or the baby Jesus figure in the entrance, or the Mary portrait upstairs, and keeps her baby voice “hello, baby Jesus. Hello! Virgin Mary.”

As my niece gets older and learns how to speak, my mom keeps taking her to the images “hello Jesus… goodbye Jesus”let’s give baby Jesus a kiss on the knees”, or “a kiss on the cheek for the Virgin.”

When my grandfather passed away, my family told my nieces that he was now in heaven with Jesus and the saints. This is standard procedure in Catholicism. I remember my mom telling me the same about my great grandmother… “she was tired and suffering, now she is resting and her spirit went up to the heavens to be with God, happy forever.”

I can also remember my mom tucking me into bed, she would make the cross on my body “en el nombre del padre, y del hijo, y del espiritu santo…” and I would reply “AMEN!” and would kiss her fingers.

As a teenager and into my 20’s, I prided myself in having been raised as a free-thinking individual… looking back at my early years, I wonder if I really had a free choice when it came to religion.

— — — —

Side notes on Sin (Original, or otherwise)

Going back to Creation and sin, let’s recapitulate in layman’s terms: a perfect God with unlimited power creates man “out of love”, making him with his own hands out of clay, then gives him free will and a paradise to enjoy life with no limits or death. (Tangent within tangent: the Church promotes Adam and Eve didn’t experience pain nor were subject to death, among other superpowers. The Church also does not refute the theory of evolution, that is, that a series of mutations through millions of years (thousands of generations) led to primitive species of apes slowly morphing into Homo Sapiens. It is impossible to reconcile these theories).

Then God sees man is lonely (why didn’t he anticipate that if He could see the future?) and creates a woman out of the man’s rib. The woman is then tempted by Satan in the form of a snake. Satan of course, had been previously created by God, as a very beautiful and powerful angel who turned on God and therefore was sent to Hell. Eve falls into Satan’s temptation, eating a fruit she was not supposed to eat then feeding it to Adam (I think it Catholics think it means she had some dirty thoughts or she masturbated and then she had sex with Adam).

This went on for thousands of years until the Virgin Mary came along, and was conceived in her mother’s womb without original sin (the Immaculate Conception! Hopefully you didn’t skip Chapter 3), and in turn conceives and gives birth to Jesus free of sin.

Jesus is God, and proclaims no one can get into heaven without being baptized (“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit”), this means that all unbaptized humans, including babies, are excluded from God’s kingdom. So now you are faced with the dilema reconciling a loving God with one that doesn’t allow babies he created into heaven.

One solution is treating Jesus’ comment as non-literal, but that means you are picking and choosing what to believe. So your beliefs come from what you feel makes sense, not from what the Bible says, you merely pick and choose parts that reinforce what you already feel or like, and dismiss those that don’t make so much sense. In that sense, why choose the Bible over other religious texts? And why choose religious texts over science books and common sense?

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