The Halo Halo! column from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
You know what it’s like when you have a job done but due to a design fault, shoddy workmanship or whatever, something goes wrong and you have to get it done all over again? Well imagine the hassle transgender Christians will be in for if the fears of one vicar are realised.
Newly baptised babies, it seems, may be in for a shock as they lay there gurgling away, naively expecting that the pantomime they’ve just been through – where the vicar has chanted some mumbo-jumbo and splashed them with holy water – has now been completed; and that they can go home, have a nap and get on with their lives. Little do these little innocents realise that if at some point, maybe thirty or forty years in the future, they decide to have a sex change, apart from all the other problems they may face, their baptism will now be buggered, no longer be fit for purpose, and will need re-doing. And while these church christening fonts are quite big enough for even the chubbiest, bonny bouncing baby, you try cramming a bewildered and possibly agitated adult into one.
According to a report in the Guardian (22 May) following a request by the vicar of Lancaster Priory, the Church of England is to consider plans for a new baptism ceremony for Christians who have undergone a sex change. One such upgrade was required by a member of his flock, he said, ‘where we could introduce him to God with his new name and his new identity’. Well, God may be all-knowing but he’s bound to be confused by this sort of thing isn’t he?
This is interesting though because baptism, in its various forms, is one of those rituals that can be traced back to its pagan origins in mythology, and there have been problems right from the start.
The Greek hero Achilles you may remember if you were paying attention at school, who was born to Thetis, an immortal sea-goddess, and Peleus a mortal, had to be dipped in the river Styx, whose water had magical powers, in order for him to acquire the immortality enjoyed by his mother’s side of the family. Unfortunately she dangled him by the ankle which, not being submerged remained susceptible to human death. (He was subsequently killed after being hit in the heel by an arrow).
Readers of the Bible will recognise this river dipping ritual as the same as the one performed by John the Baptist on Jesus (although Jesus probably wasn’t dangled by the ankle). When he was ducked in the river by John, we are told, God boomed from the heavens that ‘This is my beloved son’, etc.
The seemingly modern idea, too, of being ‘born again’, to ‘cleanse one of their sins’, is another variation of this. In the ancient Greek world if someone who had been mistakenly presumed dead, and handed over to the god of the underworld, later turned up alive and well (something that must have been fairly common where skirmishes with neighbouring tribes was a normal way of life) in order to keep the misfortunes of the underworld away, before being re-admitted into the community they had to go through an elaborate re-birth ritual to convince the gods of their revived mortal status.
Another ancient ritual, carried out for the same purpose, required the person being ‘born again’ to spend a night crouched in a large tub. Over this the rituals normally performed for pregnant women were carried out.
It’s good to see that there’s still a decent living to be made out of paganism and mythology isn’t it?