New Beginnings

At one time I believed that baptism offered me a new beginning.  Mine took place at sunrise on Easter morning. I lived in South Florida at the time and will confidently impart that even the tropical waters of the Atlantic are cold at 6:00 am in March. I shivered as the icy water crept through the fabric of my dress and st-st-stuttered the word “yes” to each of the pastor’s questions. Felt his hand around my back and a rush as I went down into the dark, cool water to release my past. I rose to applause and arms outstretched. I licked salt from my lips and felt daylight’s roseate glow through my sleeves, wet and white.

Over 800 people were baptized with me that morning. The voices of their respective parties competed with the screeching of seagulls and the disinterested, rhythmic lapping of waves on the shore. These melodic sounds, woven together, were the backdrop to a magical, mystical, liberating thought:

I am a new creation.

On rare occasions, I am asked why I was drawn to religion. I wasn’t raised in a religious household, but was curious enough to try it on for size as an adult. Though it’s clear to me now that many of the teachings are negative and harmful, Christianity does have its selling points. This concept of being reborn, erasing past mistakes, having a do-over…well, who could ask for more? When I rose out of the water that Easter Sunday, I no longer had to confront my wrongs. I could evade the painful process of addressing the underlying causes of many of my poor decisions. I could throw away the cigarette without acknowledging the teenage angst that led me to my first puff. I could sweep my past under a rug of sea and sand, change into dry clothes, and start my life again as a 35-year-old newborn.

Now in defense of Christianity, baptism is only intended to be a public confession of belief. According to the Bible it is not required for admission to heaven, nor does it automate any physical or emotional healing. However, the concept of baptism being a figurative death and rebirth with Christ is certainly derived from scripture (Romans 6:4). This is the belief that induces a positive sensation in the believer, the story of dying and being reborn with no sins through a simple profession of faith and subsequent dunking.

If I was happy to be forgiven of my potty mouth, my lust and the occasional bender, just think how happy baptism must have made Gary Ridgway, Jeffrey Dahmer, or David Berkowitz. How nice to know that it doesn’t matter whether you rape, kill, or dismember people. You still get a free pass to heaven! Meanwhile this guy, who is spending his life feeding and caring for the poor, will be punished for all eternity because he’s not Christian. Baptism and the “salvation prayer” are such convenient recruitment tools! As I’m writing this, I can almost watch it like a con artist scene in a silent film, the scene that makes you laugh because it is so transparently absurd.

The downside to religious rituals (like religions themselves) is that they can be mistaken for a magic button. When the addict gets “saved” he is not automatically free of addiction. The lack of proper intervention can lead to continued addiction, suicide, or death. In the US, children have fallen gravely ill or died when parents have relied on prayer to heal them, denying them access to standard medical treatment. Mental illness may go unrecognized and untreated in the Christian community, perhaps because it conflicts with the societal perception that religious people are stable, happy, and making healthy choices. In fact, according to this source, most serial killers in the United States were raised in strict religious homes.

You probably already figured out that the old, sinful me didn’t die that morning in the cold Atlantic. It was a beautiful sentiment, and it impacted my life in a concrete way. But the truth was, I was still me. I was no better equipped to deny myself that cigarette the day my husband packed his things and left me with a crying toddler. The “new me” sent him text messages that week that would make Richard Pryor blush from the grave. Along with the coping skills I needed to face this new one, all of my past sorrows and prior rejections wormed their way to the surface. I had not buried them eternally under that rug of sea and sand. And I wasn’t sorry to see them.

I was relieved.

It took me years to come back completely. Without the convenience of divine forgiveness, I had to go back and pick through my mistakes. I had to forgive myself for the things I knew I had done wrong. But as hard as that was, it was harder still to “un-forgive” myself for things that weren’t so wrong after all. Christianity had spent years teaching me that my “old self” was shameful, sinful, and embarrassing. When I broke free from religion, I was able to combine the scattered chapters of my life into a cohesive and beautiful story.  I didn’t need to erase the lovers of my youth, or repent of jokes I’d shared, or passions I’d felt, or stories I’d written (occasionally under the influence of whiskey straight). All those things made me strong, artistic, compassionate, complex, me.

Why would I want to die and be reborn? I love the me that was born the first time! I love my scars and intricacies, my lusts and passions, and my curious, wandering soul.

May 2018 bring clever anecdotes to add to your wondrous life story!

 

16 thoughts on “New Beginnings

  1. So many travel similar paths, but are unable to express it so well. I think of the revolving door confessionals, where people just keep making the same mistakes over and over. Forgiven, but never learning or trying to improve. Much better (and harder) to face yourself squarely and understand your actions then forgive yourself and improve yourself. Thanks for your thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I continue to struggle with condemning myself sometimes. It’s sad to reflect on the reality that it was a learned behavior. I hope I have spared my child from growing up to hate various aspects of herself, in the name of “God.” This was my take on the New Year’s tradition. We’re always so swept away this time of year imagining better versions of ourselves. I want to spend this one appreciating the fullness of life, the journey (sometimes difficult) and the resilience. Baptism teaches us to wash away our old selves. Not only is this impossible, but if it were possible, it would be a terrible loss.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In the Lutheran church, baptism is viewed as the first step in the divine mystery of salvation. It’s one of two sacraments (the other being communion), and so commands an important place in the established mythos of Lutheran Christianity. Baptism was always taught to me that it’s salvation of a sort, not in an intrinsic way, but more like a soul insurance for your family. Baptized kids (because Lutherans baptize at birth) who aren’t confirmed are saved in Christ for purposes of going to heaven.

    I mention all of this to note that while the specifics of the lie are different, the mechanism is still quite the same. Instead of feeling like you’re born again at a later date, you’re letting the young, innocent version of yourself down. It’s like every time you do something bad, you’re punching your infant self in the face. I wonder if people who went through adult baptism get the same guilt trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an interesting observation. Having spent my entire Christian life in the “baptize as an adult” credence, I had never thought about this “reversed” type of guilt possibly felt by those baptized as an infant. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  3. Hello Danica,Enjoying your blog.   Would like to comment – but not really interested in another log in to yet another service – World press.One of the strongest arguments against christianity providing moral superiority is within this blog.  Be as evil as you like – they continuously ask for forgiveness and – viola – you go to heaven.   Then I invariably get to oh so predictible “NO real chrostian would continue to do evil acts…..yada yada yada – so predictable. Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, I appreciate the comment! Is it necessary to log in each time? I have followers via email, and they just get an email with my blog posts. I’m relatively new to this, so I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me on that. I do hope that it is convenient for those who want to read and comment. And yes, I aggree with your comment very strongly. This free ticket has been used in the cruelest of ways, especially when it comes to abuse of children within the church, which ,in my opinion, is unforgivable. I believe that people should have second chances, but no one should be able to abuse a “magic potion” that allows them to hurt others, over and over, and absolve themselves of guilt.

      Like

  4. Danica, I can tell I’m going to enjoy your blog and your personality. 🙂

    After my 10-years in Fundy Christianity which included 3-years of seminary, and married to a preacher’s/missionary’s daughter (who ironically divorced me after 4-years of marriage), two major paramount problems became unavoidable for me and my belief in Biblical-Spirit-filled Christianity:

    1) Total Disempowerment — due to Original and perpetual sin in a fallen planet and species

    2) Lack of personal Ownership/Responsibility — because of a free (via grace?) Proxy or Substitute or Stand-in for one’s behavior/actions

    Just these two (fictional) conditions lead to all sorts of life and personality problems too long to list here! 😮

    Like

    1. Hi, Professor Taboo, and thank you for the comment! I just got home and was able to approve it. I welcome you to Love over Religion. I post weekly, and always welcome insightful comments, such as yours. I love how succinctly you captured the two unavoidable problems of religion. I’m interested to learn more of your story. (it is ironic indeed) and reading your blog as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You are invited to attend our chapter discussion group. We show a short video on a topic of interest to those questioning religion and discuss the questions raised. Most of us go out for lunch after the meeting, Our next event is Sat, Jan 13 at the Brunswick, Maine library at 10 AM. Tom, president@ffrfmaine.org

    Like

    1. Hi, Tom! I wish I were just a little a closer. I’m over here in Wisconsin, so that would be quite a drive, snow all around! I am delving into the possibility of opening a group here, in Southern Wisconsin. We are sorely in need of a Humanist group. Thanks so much, at any rate, and Happy New Year to you!

      Like

  6. Powerful article. Wishing you a year full of adventures and meaningful lessons on the new path you’re walking. Looking forward to join you (virtually) on that path. Happy 2018!
    XxX

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s