This week I’m addressing this question:
Are there parallel rituals or events in other faiths?
I should first admit that an anthropologist would probably answer this question better than I can! But the short answer is yes. At its most basic, baptism is a rite of passage, and many cultures, of course, have rituals to create and mark transformative experiences.
Infant baptism may have its most obvious parallel in naming ceremonies for new babies. There are so many versions of this, from Judaism to Native American practice to Islam to Hinduism to Wicca. Naming ceremonies are also popular for non-religious folks to formally welcome babies into the world.
Another important element of baptism is water, that universally-appreciated source & symbol of life. Water plays an important role in many cultural practices, particularly as a cleansing agent or sign of new beginning. Check out this article from my hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe, which interviews three religious leaders about the meaning and uses of water in their traditions.
I once participated in a ritual that combined baby naming and water but wasn’t a traditional baptism. This baby’s parents did not feel connected to a religious faith per se, but they loved their families, community and water. So we created a ritual that involved blessing the baby’s head, heart, hands, and feet with water drawn from various sources sacred to the family, including the Mississippi River, Como Lake, and Lake Superior. There was even bona fide holy water from grandma’s Catholic Church in the mix!
If I had to identify themes connecting all these rituals, it would be these: 1) the essential dignity and singularity of each human life; and 2) the opportunity to “start over.” I don’t personally understand this as a “washing away of sin” as if we are inherently dirty. No. I see it more as a celebration of our capacity to be transformed, to be unburdened, to be set free of all that binds us.