Here’s an interesting case. A woman took her baby to Danderyd church (where I once took first communion) and had the child baptised — against the father’s wishes, as it turned out. He isn’t happy. And the priest admits that he should have checked with the dad but that he didn’t.

Bo Larsson, provost of the see of Stockholm, comments (and I translate):

“When I became a priest in the mid-70s, the nuclear family was the unquestioned standard, but today’s relationship patterns are infinitely more varied than they were 20 or 30 years ago and I feel that it has become even more important that the priest is both painstaking and wise and really makes sure that he understands the situation.”

To me, christening a baby is a pretty harmless thing to do, certainly not like circumcision. It’s a superstitious ritual, but not a dangerous one, and not one that has any significance to me. Of course, I wouldn’t want to help expand the membership roster of a church. But I imagine that if my wife had really, really wanted to have Juniorette baptised then I would have allowed it, just like I let her dose Juniorette with Chinese herbal cough syrup. In the abovementioned case, though, I don’t know if the parents are a cohabiting couple, and if you’re not, then I suppose you’re far less willing to humour your co-parent.

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  1. #1 Chris' Wills
    March 12, 2010

    If they aren’t a cohabiting couple and she is the one raising the child, is it really any of his business?

  2. #2 Martin R
    March 12, 2010

    All the article says is that they have shared custody. This doesn’t tell us much as it it the normal state of things in Sweden regardless of whether they cohabit or not.

  3. #3 Luis
    March 12, 2010

    They should not impose anything religious on any children. Full stop.

    When they grow up they should be able to choose freely.

  4. #4 Martin R
    March 12, 2010

    Luis, most baptised children in Sweden hardly encounter any other imposed religion from their parents. Most non-atheist Swedes are extremely lukewarm Christians holding on to a few traditional rituals.

  5. #5 Eira
    March 12, 2010

    I was baptised in the protestant church in Sweden, because it was “the thing to do”.

    My parents are non christians as am I, but when I refused confession (meaning confessing to the faith) I was told by my parents and friends I was being stupid, since confession in Sweden seems to be more about the gifts you may get, and not about the religious aspect (yes – Swedes are generally very secular).

    Now, can someone please tell me – when did “earthly” possessions (or the denial of them) become the mark of spiritual belief?

  6. #7 Nick Williams
    March 12, 2010

    But I imagine that if my wife had really, really wanted to have Juniorette baptised then I would have allowed it, just like I let her dose Juniorette with Chinese herbal cough syrup.

    Did the Chinese herbal cough syrup work? You see, I’ve had a bad cough for a couple of weeks and I can’t seem to shift it.

    In need to medical advice,


  7. #8 Martin R
    March 12, 2010

    The syrup doesn’t seem to do anything. (Anecdotally speaking, of course.) It’s typical alternative medicine, has no apparent effect and hasn’t been through any clinical tests.

  8. #9 Janne
    March 12, 2010

    If the syrup is anything like the stuff people use here in Japan, most of the perceived effect comes from the quick shot of alcohol making up most of the solution.

  9. #10 Kevin
    March 12, 2010

    Abstract ideas deeply held, whether religious, political or atheist, are all potentially antisocial. Freaking out cus your kid might have been exposed to bad Christian juju is as irrational as any religious idea.

    As religion loses its grip on Western culture, I think it’s time to redefine the bad-fundy-religious to good-lefty-atheist continuum to one based on ideologues vs. pragmatists. I’d rather drink my Orangina in a room full of easygoing lukewarm protestants than rabid lefty atheists, though I have much more in common philosophically with the latter. Ideology is just unpleasant.

  10. #11 David Wilson
    March 12, 2010

    The quote:

    “To me, christening a baby is a pretty harmless thing to do, certainly not like circumcision”.

    I wish I had been christened, instead of circumcised.

    17th Annual Demonstration/March Against Circumcision
    March 26th – April 1st 2010
    West side of US Capitol
    March 30th—– march to the White House 4pm

    Stop Infant Circumcision Society

    Doctors Opposing Circumcision Statement on HIV/Circumcision
    Bill to end male genital mutilation

  11. #12 Luna_the_cat
    March 12, 2010

    just like I let her dose Juniorette with Chinese herbal cough syrup

    Whoa, what? Now that is something I wouldn’t do! Do you have ANY idea how many “Chinese herbal medicines” are contaminated with heavy metals (especially mercury, lead and arsenic), not to mention how many have undeclared real pharmaceuticals in them? Google ‘chinese herbal medicine heavy metal contamination’ for an idea. Crap, you should be paying more attention to the takedowns of “alt med” by your fellow science bloggers, not feeding this shit to a baby!

    “Alternative medicine” is not alway harmless. And I don’t think that a ritual which doesn’t have any physical effect is equivalent.

  12. #13 Martin R
    March 13, 2010

    I know about dangerous herbal remedies. This particular one is traditional in the sense that it’s been a household name in China for decades. Of course, that wouldn’t stop the makers from suddenly adding lead and mercury and sildenaphil to the recipe, but still, I’ve assumed that anything that sells in the hundreds of thousands of bottles every day is probably not directly dangerous. Though, as I said, I’m pretty sure it offers no medical benefit either.

  13. #14 Luna_the_cat
    March 13, 2010

    Urgh. Good to know you’re at least aware, but all I have to say there is, “melamine in milk.”

  14. #15 Nick Williams
    March 13, 2010

    Here we go, this might tickle some of you – on the subject of bogus cold cures.

    Hancock’s Half Hour The Cold (Part 1)

  15. #16 Michel
    March 14, 2010

    I’d be weary of herbal cough syrups : all herbal remedies suffer from uncontrolled dosage (Chinese ones only more so), you can kill yourself quite effectively with “natural” remedies.

  16. #17 Martin R
    March 14, 2010

    As I once argued here, there is strong selection pressure on alternative medicine to do absolutely nothing. Though it may take a few years for it to weed a certain concoction out.

  17. #18 AKhôrahil
    March 14, 2010

    It has been theorized that this is the reason for homeopathy – up until perhaps the 19th century, being medicated with water was probably better than getting whatever passed as medicine.

  18. #19 Martin R
    March 15, 2010

    Oh yes. Prescientific Western medicine was awful. I recently learned about yet another one of the “humour-balancing” interventions they used to do, with Spanish fly. Put a mash of toxic insects on the skin and a large fluid-filled boil will appear. You lance it, let the fluid out, and somehow you have selectively drained bad stuff out of the patient’s body! Stupid bastards acting blindly on non-empirical authority.

  19. #20 Akhôrahil
    March 15, 2010

    Whereas today, we have “detox”, which has the same level of scientific grounding and works about as well.

  20. #21 codero
    March 15, 2010

    Get a load of this – if you are baptized as a kid in Germany, you are liable to pay “church tax” later, which is collected by the state (!) off your paycheck. For that purpose, you are obliged to disclose your denomination, if any, to your employer and the tax office.
    You may decide to leave the church once you’re 14, which you typically do by visiting the magistrate’s court or some other state agency, often paying a considerable fee.
    All of this is, of course, unconstitutional and probably a human rights issue, but unlikely to be changed anytime soon.

  21. #22 Martin R
    March 15, 2010

    I believe that’s how it still works in Sweden too? Though there is no fee for leaving the church and you don’t have to visit their offices.

    Does anybody here know how the church tax is collected these days in Sweden? Church and state went separate ways in 2000 here.

  22. #23 Dr M
    March 15, 2010

    Church tax is still collected the same way it always was (if you are a member of the Church of Sweden, that is; other religious organisations do not get this service). That is one way that one may well argue that separation of church and state isn’t complete. There is also a “burial fee” which is collected the same way. I don’t remember if it is shown separately or if it is all collected into the church “tax”. For those not members of the Church of Sweden, I believe it is still a separate item on the tax sheet.

    As to a point from the blogpost:

    It’s a superstitious ritual

    … and for most parents who have their children baptised not even that. Many of them probably don’t believe in the religious content of the ritual any more than you or I do. To them it is a cultural ritual. The talk of God, the reading from the Bible, etc. is merely part of the ritual, not something to be actively believed.

  23. #24 Martin R
    March 15, 2010

    Yes, burial tax is still a separate item for non-member sof the Church of Sweden.

    Haha, I love the way that Swedes go to church for life-cycle rituals and concerts but are really, really uncomfortable with talk of Jesus. (-;

  24. #25 Dr M
    March 15, 2010

    P.S. The real problem in the story from Danderyd, of course, isn’t baptising the child, it’s the obviously dysfunctional relationship between the parents. That, if anything, is what is going to hurt the child, and that is what one should worry about. Their disagreement could have been over anything; it just happened to be over the relatively benign procedure of pouring a handful of water on the child’s head and saying some words over it. (And yes, making it formally a member of the church, which, to be honest, isn’t going to do any harm until the child is old enough to start paying taxes out of its own income.)

  25. #26 Martin R
    March 15, 2010

    It lends the organisation a bit of extra legitimacy, FWIW.

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