Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fort a teenage unbeliever

Russell King posted a diary at Street Prophets, My Son Won't Be Confirming Today. His son is 14 & cannot accept the existance of God much less affirm the minimal requirements of Christian orthodoxy, which requires - let's face it - believing possible what is clearly impossible. No doubt, this created a difficult social situation for Russell, since confirmations are usually big family & church occasions with gifts & parties afterward. Early confirmation is traditional in many Christian churches. Similar to but not quite the same in meaning as a Jewish Bar Mitzvah. Catholic kids like confirmation if only because they get to choose a new name from a long list of Saints. In many cultures, a ritual, formalized religious passage into adulthood is required. But not in America. Fortunately, there was no pressure in my family or Methodist Church, & I never seriously considered being confirmed into "membership" any more than I thought I was a good candidate for the Boy Scout "God & Country" badge.

I disagree with the practice of early confirmation. I think it's too young an age. It's also an age when a lot of kids go through the process only because it's easier than resisting it. They aren't certain of what they believe, or are passing through phases, & yet are asked to declare that they have no doubts, by adults who won't admit that they have doubts. Kids that age are are rarely ready for the serious literature of spiritual doubt & anxiety, particularly the reasoning literature. So God bless the young man who could neither make the promises nor treat Christian confirmation as a mere traditional formality.

I'm more generous toward infant baptism. It is a reassuring sacrament for adults, always an occasion filled with deep sentiment. The infant is welcomed into the community of Jesus Christ, usually, not always, with the promise that the child will be raised Christian. The exact meaning & purpose of infant baptism vary. But it is not a decision made by the infant. That's a theological & physical impossibility. It's a decision by parents on behalf of the baby & the community. Here's where my variety of protestantism kicks in. Although the child now belongs to the community of Jesus, which is preached as existing both temporally & eternally, no earthly organization has the right or the power to stand between an individual & God by predetermining the timing & conditions of that relationship. The community, or any institutional structure created by the community, doesn't have this right or power even when an individual is completely turned away from God, denying the existance of God, seemingly at the most extreme estrangement. A baptized person remains within the accepting embrace of the community no matter where that person stands in relation to the community. For all that I cannot affirm with certainty, for all that I doubt, I affirm this as gospel truth. The door is never closed because there is no door. The Christian belief is that God is not & can never be estranged from this world or anyone in it. This relationship doesn't depend on how we feel about it. It doesn't exist because a number of people happen to believe in it. The relationship would still exist if nobody believed in it. That's the good news of the Easter message in a hardboiled decorated eggshell. Whether you or I believe it or not.


Is 14 the age when the good little Catholic kids get confirmed these days? I was confirmed at 13, so that puts it at around 1983. Growing up in Vatican II, we weren't quizzed about our faith during the confirmation ceremony by Bishop Marconi, but he joked that such questioning was standard practice back in the "dark ages."
I suppose most systems are geared to 8th grade confirmation. Pressure to get confirmed varies widely in protestant denominations. Catholics confirm en masse, so it's probably easier for doubters & slackers to just shuffle through the process as part of the crowd - you're all in it together. Catholic confirmation classes were huge in the boomer Sixties & my Catholic friends got money from their relatives on the occasion. I knew Jewish kids got a big payday, but they had to learn Hebrew & perform in public.
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