Baptism of fire…but first, an unspectacular watery ritual

Last week while visiting my brother in Durban, I was told that his teenage daughter was at baptism rehearsal. I remember laughing out loud, because it seemed strange to me that the baptism ritual would require rehearsal.

I mean, how hard can it be to be baptized? Is there an elaborate process of walking in step, or skipping to a tune,  that needed to be followed meticulously? Did she need to memorize a segment of a Pauline epistle, or perhaps a chapter and verse from the Gospels? What is it about this whole ritual that necessitates a rehearsal? I was intrigued, so when I got back to Johannesburg this week, I decided to find out.

It turns out modern baptisms involve either a sprinkling of water to the head (aspersion), or pouring of water over the head (affusion), or lastly the dipping of the body either completely or partially under water (immersion). So far so good. I can’t see any reason why one would need to rehearse for any of this; unless off course you have an aversion to water, which most people don’t. Apparently until the middle ages, baptisms were performed completely naked. If that were still the case today, I suppose it would require a bit of practice keeping from dying of embarrassment, as the baptism is a very public affair. Since only complete exhibitionists would agree to being baptised in the nude, in public, I don’t think any practice is required of your ordinary prudish member of church.

Some baptisms that require complete immersion in water are performed in a river or stream, or even in the surf it seems. If you can’t swim or have an aversion for flowing water, then some practice would be in order. I suspect that most modern baptisms does not involve full submersion, as it does not seem very practical. But then, when it comes to religion, practicality is usually tossed out the window in favor of blind adherence. Nonetheless, most people would not need to practice for a full immersion.

The conditions for being baptised seem simple enough: the candidate requires one or more sponsors who make a commitment to the church and to being a mentor, and the candidate also needs to accept Jesus as his or her saviour and renounce the devil. Pretty straightforward. People make commitments all the time – no practice needed there.  Anyway, if you need to practice accepting a saviour or renouncing the devil, then it probably means that you don’t really want to. Incidently, the church is committed to ensuring you stay committed to them; it’s called self-preservation, and they’ve had 2000 years of  practice perfecting their grip.

So, I can’t really find any reason why a rehearsal is necessary. It just seems to me that it is done to give a totally unspectacular event more importance than it actually deserves; perhaps to reinforce the supposed importance of the church and clergy, just in case the baptism symbolism is lost on the initiate. Perhaps you need to be a captivated member of the church to see the logic; because I don’t.

I guess I’m just disappointed that my niece who is aspiring to become a journalist or writer, allowed herself to be convinced that a baptism is necessary, or that religion itself is necessary, I was hoping that she would have adopted a more skeptical attitude towards supernatural beliefs, and a more open and exploring mind. She may yet become a good writer, albeit another tool of the religious propaganda machine.

But then again, perhaps a baptism of fire will one day release her mind from religious slavery. I can only hope…