Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Convenience versus conscience - the baptism debate

Next year, Tristan will start junior kindergarten. Registration for Fall 2006 starts in February, which gives me four months to get off the fence and decide whether to enrol the boys in Catholic school or not. Four months to decide whether to baptize them or not.

I have no idea what to do.

There are practical considerations that make me favour the Catholic school system. The Catholic school is *right* across the street from us; I can see the schoolyard from my bedroom window. They are building a new public school two and a half blocks away, which is certainly convenient as well, and it looks like a lovely school, at least from an architectural perspective. So there’s no compelling geographical reason to choose one over the other, except the Catholic school is so close that the boys will be able to walk over by themselves sooner – assuming we’re still living in the house we’re in. Bobbie’s kids (my daycare provider) go to the Catholic school, which makes before and after school care a lot more convenient.

I went to Catholic school, and I truly believe that the quality of education is, on average, of a slightly higher quality in the separate school system. I can’t articulate exactly what it is that is better, and haven’t done a lot of research on it, but for whatever reason, it seems to be the case. (In Ontario, the public and separate/Catholic school systems are both publicly funded, so the Catholic schools are not private. There is no cost consideration for one school board versus the other.) The Catholic school across from us has a good reputation – not stellar, but above average, and the parents I talk to are generally happy with it.

So why am I waffling? Because I’m not a Catholic anymore – I call myself a recovering Catholic, in fact - and having the boys baptized smacks of hypocrisy to me. I’m divorced. I conceived my firstborn son in a petri dish. I believe in marriage rites for gays, birth control, abortion on demand and women in the clergy. I’m not even sure I believe Jesus Christ was god. I’m not exactly the poster girl for dogma.

Yes, I could put the boys in a Catholic school without having them christened. But among other things, they’d have to sit on the sidelines in Grade Two when all their friends are lining up to take their first communion, and I think it would really make matters more confusing than they have to be. If I put them in Catholic school, they should be brought up Catholic – at least in form if not fundamentally.

But what does that mean?

My folks let me make my own decisions. They baptized us, brought us to church when we were babies, and stopped sometime around the time we were old enough to squirm off the pew. We participated in all the religious rites, and my folks were always open about what they believed and what they didn’t. They taught me to be sceptical, and to think critically about matters of faith.

In grade school, there was a “all the cool kids are doing it” element to going to church, so I asked my mother to start taking me to mass on a Sunday morning, which she did without complaint. I grew out of that like most other phases. When I was old enough to drive myself, we used to congregate (nice pun, eh?) at the church on Saturday nights because one of my friends was an altar boy, so Saturday evening mass was the launch of the evening’s festivities. To be brutally honest, I had a crush on the altar boy. Church meant an hour being able to watch him without being weird about it.

And yet there are things about church that I miss. I miss the singing, the ceremony, the comfort of ritual, and the sense of community. I toy with the idea of bringing the boys to church because I genuinely think these are lovely things to expose them to.

But I so fundamentally object to some of the Church’s teachings that I can’t reconcile my objections with the desire to be part of a church community. Calling myself Catholic would be hypocritical, and standing up at my boys’ baptism and promising to raise them as Catholics would be an outright lie because I know that what the Church expects and what I intend are not even on the same ideological page.

I’ve been hedging on this for three and a half years… time is running out.