This past weekend, I was invited to attend a baptism for a family member on my wife’s side of the family. She at one time was a fully dedicated member herself since they got to her mom at about the same time of her life as the kids I unfortunately got to witness being victimized a few days ago.
Yes. I did just say victimized. How else do you describe lying to children, playing on their emotions about the ‘gifts’ there were about to receive, and all of the other mumbo jumbo that their biggest protectors (their family and parents) put them through. This was a joyous occasion to many that attended, but as I sat in the pew with my little girls around me, I felt nothing but sadness for the kids that were being further indoctrinated into their cult.
I then remembered that my wife, her brother, and oh so many of my closest friends in the Utah Atheist movement came from similar backgrounds and they too made it out of that house of horror themselves. I’ll get to the details in a second, but I feel that I have to give a little background about myself.
My Experience With Baptism
I was a skeptical Southern Baptist for a good chunk of my life, but was always torn between two worlds. My dad, a very scientifically inclined man who I feel has been paying lip-service to religion for his adult life, had never been much of a pushy religious person…except when it came to making sure we knew those damned commandments, especially the “honor thy father and mother” hokum. My mom on the other hand, is a true believer and thinks angels and demons are real things. I’ve never asked her about religion and it’s definitely something I want to do on the podcast here, but there’s a time and a place for that.
I remember a time when she dragged us to church when I was a kid (that reminds me I need to look up the old pastor to see if he ever got hit on any crimes), and it was a particularly trying time of my mom’s life. Dad was off to fight Saddam out of Kuwait, she had two shitty kids bothering her at all times, and we were smack dab in the middle of rural ass Louisiana. I bring all this up to relate the time she decided she wanted to get baptized.
The font was behind the pulpit and I remember hearing the call to all of those who wanted to be saved and seeing my mother, and mother is another name for God for children, crying and going up to the pastor to get dunked and with me a precocious 8 year old and my near teen brother tagging behind her wondering what was wrong. Thanks to the eidetic memory I have, I replay shit like this in my head quite often. Just think of the horrible things that you’ve seen and not being able to forget it. So when I’m really bothered by something, I get to replay it over and over and over again. It’s definitely not fun, handy sometimes, but not fun when shit like this comes up.
We approach the front of the church and the pastor is thinking he has 3 souls to save that day, but bless my mom who said “no not my boys, they need to make the decision themselves”. I never was baptized into any religion, so I’m heathen through and through, but my notion of baptism is one of a personal choice one makes when they can, and it’s in front of the entire congregation. It was nothing like the Mormon baptisms I was to experience living here in Utah.
The LDS Baptism
I was witness to one of my family member’s baptism when she was a kid, but I was a shitheaded teenager who was more concerned about my own angst and writing prose that mimicked that from Henry Rollins, not being an anti-religion podcaster and writer. Simply meaning that I didn’t pay that much attention.
The baptism that I attended recently was for an indirect family member that I think is a nice kid, but honestly don’t know that well except for my own kids playing with him. I’d like to say that the worst part of the whole experience was going to Tooele (about 50 minutes from my front door)…but it wasn’t.
As we near the ward’s entrance we’re greeted by the same overly nice tone that tells me that I’m not REALLY welcome in but “oh isn’t it nice that I came anyway”, LDS churches for the most part are put together the same way in and out and this wasn’t any different, there’s the same pews with the same hymnals and the same fake ass plants that line the chapel…there’s not any church that I feel is more white washed than the Mormons, everything they have feels fake and like it’s attempting to put a good face on a rotten core.
The service begins and I of course start live-tweeting the whole thing. All of the laypersons that make up the authorities in this group are cringingly bad at what they do, start things off with a prayer and a song much like how I start my weekends with a beer and a shot…except I’m not pretending to be serious. They bring in the convicts; at least that’s how they look to me with their baptism clothes that looked ripped right out of the Department of Corrections Winter Catalog. These all white prison-jumpsuit clad boys and their parents get front pew seats to the whole event. The bishops get their chance to talk about the baptees and all of the things they like in real life and in fantasy, but these kids are fucking 8 years old, their worlds probably consist of Minecraft, hot buttered noodles, and riding their bikes.
Some Molly comes up on the dais and has props, a white paper bag (guess what that’s supposed to symbolize), full of other props…worst of which is the gift box that is supposed to symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit that they will attain after being dunked. Keep in mind like I said, these kids are 8! They have no idea what the fuck a sin is, they don’t have any kind of skeptical armor for this stuff they’re teaching, they’re just rolling with it because their parents and family are positive reinforcing the whole experience. Keep in mind that Holy Spirit thing, that’s going to come up in a bit.
We are dispatched to the font for our kid that’s in the Relief Society room…except this is unlike any baptism I’ve seen as there are chairs specifically up front for little kids (to which my mother-in-law ushers my children to) so they can witness the madness about to transpire. There is also a 45 degree mounted mirror in the font so we in the back can see everything as well. He gets into the water and dunked by his father like a good little Mormon kid, after which we are quickly ushered into another room where we are made to sit for a few minutes while the two soaked people get changed.
I can only picture if it were me as a kid in that water. Thinking “oh my gosh, I’m about to get the Holy Spirit!” while standing there soaked to the bone…only to find out that after I’m doused from head to toe that for some reason…I don’t feel any different.
This poor child is going to grow up constantly questioning his faith, questioning what weird rites he sees, thinking that he’s a flawed person, and thinking that he’s less than the perfect person his church demands. I truly feel for all of the kids who went through this whole process, the LDS church is a brutal conformity factory for kids…so much so that there are teens offing themselves because of their gender identity or sexual preference. That alone makes me want to knock their organization down a peg or two. I was a shitty baptist but never felt the type of pressure these kids feel and the rigor they make them go through. It is simply shudder inducing.
After The Dunk
In the second room, we sat, bored, as I watched the knowing nods from the patriarchy to each other before beginning the confirmation. This bit of the ceremony was the wackiest bit I thought as they handed out paper and pens so that you could write the kid a message and as much as I wanted to take that paper and put the URL for the CES Letter and say “it’s all bullshit” I couldn’t unless I wanted a few bruised ribs from my wife’s knowing elbow.
The slips were handed in, nice words were said, more arms folded prayer time where people pretended to say nice things to their deity via telepathy. Time now for the final act, THE LAYING OF HANDS. As this kid is seated on a chair in the front of everyone, the men of his family and church come up to the front and do the hand on shoulder link with each other as the dad placed his hands on his son’s head and essentially ad-libbed something written by his leaders and adding his own two cents to make it seem like it was a divinely inspired speech. While I sat in the back recording audio to use on the show and making the jerking off motion…I have absolutely no respect for this religion.
After it was all said and done, I couldn’t help but grab a selfie with Mormon Jesus…he’s the whitest.
I understand that these are rituals that they think draw them closer as a community, it’s tribalism and this was essentially one of the “now you’re a man” type of events that cement his place within said tribe. I get it, I really do. I just don’t think that for one, it’s fair to the kids as you’re roping them in young, and two, that it’s a sane thing to do with other people around who think it is bullshit. They’ll end up posting pictures and a blog about how he spent an hour in adults playing pretend and acting mad.