O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

One of Those Horrible “Where Is God?” Stories

In Eastern Europe, a priest has been accused of drowning an infant boy in the process of baptism. It was an immersion baptism, and apparently the priest didn’t cover the child’s mouth. Despite the child clearly being in distress during the ritual, the priest refused to stop until the baptism had been completed.

From the story:

“We couldn’t believe it that he just put his hand over his belly and over the head and submerged him three times in the water.”

Water was found in the baby’s lungs.


There’s more at the news site, including photos and a video, which I didn’t watch and which I won’t post here. (I’m a sensitive dad. I can’t look at stuff like that.)

A bunch of blogs and commenters have been buzzing about this story, from Daniel Florien’s Unreasonable Faith (where atheist commenters see this as proof that religion is dangerous) to Matthew Paul Turner’s Jesus Needs New PR (where his Christian readers are saddened, angry, and asking hard questions).


From my perspective, these kinds of stories can lead to at least three different responses:

Blame Religion: What does it mean when a religious ritual becomes more important than a suffering child…or a human life? What good is religion when this happens?

Blame Humanity: What in the world was that priest thinking? What were the parents thinking? Why did no one push the priest aside and grab that kid out of his hands? What is it about religion or ritual or whatever that makes people forget how to be human? 

Blame God: Where is a loving and/or powerful God during situations like this? A powerful God could certainly step in and save the child, but he didn’t. A loving God would certainly have wanted to step in and save the child, but didn’t. What do we make of this? If we believe in either of those scenarios — a loving or powerful deity — then we have to conclude that God chose not to get involved. This is when we end up doing theological and philosophical gymnastics and use phrases like “his ways are not our ways” because we have to explain why God chose not to do something than any moral person would have done — save a child from a stupid, needless death. Why?

I don’t know about you, but questions like these keep me up at night.

Because I don’t know who to blame…and because, as a Christian, I feel part of the blame belongs to me.

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bryan a

posted July 29, 2010 at 10:35 am

i usually avoid stories like this because they put me in such a foul mood. but oh well, I’ll bite.
I’ll definitely play the “God’s ways are higher than our ways” card because I think it’s true. If we could figure God out, he wouldn’t be God. Cliche? maybe. But there is truth there.
So with my limited reasoning it seems to me that God had a decision to make way back when. Does He step in and stop these senseless acts from happening or not? If he does once, does he do it again? And if he does it twice, when does He stop? Only for the big things? Well, what’s a big thing and what’s a little thing?
If we are to believe what the Bible says about God’s nature, then we believe He loves justice and hates injustice. So maybe once He started doing this, He wouldn’t be able to stop. And suddenly He has a world in which he thwarts every evil act and every senseless tragedy and every accident from happening. And eventually we are not people making right and wrong choices and choosing to love God through faith or choose to walk away from Him.
It’s a tough stretch for our minds to consider such a world, but it would certainly be A LOT different from the one we live in today. And it would create a much different narrative than the idea that God is love, and he longs for his creation to love him back through faith.
It’s a terribly disjointed response…but it’s honestly all I have in moments like these.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 10:36 am

What people do in the name of Christianity quite often has nothing to do with real Christianity. I am a follower of Jesus. Jesus would not drown a child for the sake of ritual. I understand why non-Christians would be confused, but if you are focused on Christ instead of “Christianity”, why would you blame yourself?

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posted July 29, 2010 at 10:39 am

When an atheist does something wrong or makes a mistake, do other atheists blame themselves? Should they?

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posted July 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

It’s times like this that everything I hear and read about suffering comes off as thin, hollow and totally insufficient. I know that this child died as a result of human error and that God doesn’t step in to stop these things because that would negate our free will. But that doesn’t ease anyone’s pain or answer the questions we have about why this happened. The worst is when I hear people respond with “Well, it’s part of God’s plan.” No, it’s not. I feel certain that it’s never a part of God’s plan for anyone to suffer, that God is a loving father who’s anguish is even greater than our own. But, that doesn’t change the fact that yet another bad act has been done in His name. Sometimes, I just want to yell “WHAT THE HELL, GOD?!?!?”

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Jason Boyett

posted July 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

Because as much as I’d like to dither around the semantics of “real Christianity” or whether or not being a Christian is the same as being a follower of Jesus, the truth is that, by choosing to follow Jesus, I have chosen to identify myself with the Christian religious tradition. And the Christian religious tradition — while responsible for a lot of good in the world — is also responsible for stuff like this.
I think somewhere behind our attempts to explain why this kind of thing happens is an acknowledgment that, somehow, we share a little bit of the blame.

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So glad I saw the light...

posted July 29, 2010 at 10:57 am

I don’t agree, Kay, but not because I have an intelligent rebuttal or that I have a different solution but simply because I don’t understand this kind of logic. What is focusing on Christ but not Christianity? Last time I checked, focusing on Christ the entire definition of Christianity. This kind of mobius strip logic is one of the huge holes in the faith that I was never able to resolve. It just seems too convenient to put it like that. I’ve discovered that the universe makes a whole lot more sense when there isn’t some mystical heirarchy forcefully superimposed over the chaos that is human behavior.
This is a senseless, pointless tragedy and that’s all there is to it. There is no point, no reason, and no grand plan. I don’t begrudge you or anyone else your right to believe what you want (which is why I usually show up blogs like this to get other perspectives) so if you can show how focusing on Christ isn’t Christianity, I’d certainly be interested to hear the reasoning.

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Brandon Sneed

posted July 29, 2010 at 11:16 am

The only person to blame here is the priest.
This has nothing to do with religion as a whole. It was a religious practice, but many religious practices have also done much good.
You could blame humanity. Why not? We’re a broken people living in a broken world. That’s why we need God.
Obviously, blaming God is pointless. He gave us this world to do with what we choose. You don’t give someone a car and then control how they drive it. If they drive it senselessly, then senselessly tragic things will happen.
The priest made a mistake. It wasn’t on purpose, but it was dumb. It’s a horrible thing that happened.
But using this to slam God….the people that do that are more small-minded than the Christians they ridicule.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 11:31 am

Folks blame religion all the time. Some people that call themselves Christian are not. Even born again Christians do stupid things. One can “usually” tell by the consistent fruit of someone’s life if they are a Christian. (Galatians 5:19-22)
Blame humanity – then we get into the “no one is perfect” and who is a “good person” and that bologna. People are sinful – some more than others. No one is perfect, and at some point, we all fall short. We can’t depend on humanity. (Romans 3:23)
Blaming God – yeah, this is a easy one. For if he loved us he’d give us and easy life: prosperity, an HDTV in every home, we’d always win the lottery. And if we don’t, God is somehow evil.
Are you looking for a life with no pain and no sickness – you’ll have to wait until you get to Heaven. Let’s put the blame where it belongs: Adam and Eve. Well, and Satan who had free will like you and me. What if God had forced the devil to make the right choices?
My question why does all this have to blamed on someone other than the idiot priest. Can we get him to say “I’m a freakin’ fool?” “It was me, I did it.” “I was wrong.” “I deserve to die.”
The tragedy is that his priest didn’t do the same to him all those years ago. Where the heck is Darwin when you need him?

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Charlie H.

posted July 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm

well Jesus didn’t give the religious people of his day any extra special treatment or favors, and it appears that policy is still in place. God still doesn’t differentiate between Christian and non-Christian.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm

@Bryan — I could probably accept that more if every stupid little thing that happens that good wasn’t labeled a miracle by so. many. Christians. I got a parking space near the door at church so I wasn’t late? Miracle! I managed to pick up the last pack of toilet paper before the big snow storm? Miracle! Pilot remembers training and lands plane in near-by water? Miracle! We’re quick to see God intervening in good things, but then say that He’s somehow bound not to when it turns the other way (I was late because I broke a shoelace, or wrecked my car on the way to the store to get toilet paper, or a plane crashed because there wasn’t water to land on).
Of course, I don’t like to think of God as so darn hands-off either, which is why these kinds of events make me a little crazy.
@Kay — If an atheist does something that causes another harm specifically because he’s an atheist, then yeah, I think they should be painted with the same brush. But really non-belief doesn’t inspire much in the way of action. Certainly there have been atheists who have done great harm, but it’s rarely motivated by atheism itself. In this case, the ritual was a result of religious belief and the non-action of the parents was a result of religious intimidation (who stops a priest?).
The whole thing is unbelievably sad. And these are definitely things that shake my faith.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I agree with Alise. As an agnostic, I would not say that my beliefs, or lack thereof, ever inspire any kind of action, good or bad. If another agnostic did some terrible act, such as senselessly drowning a baby, I doubt it would be directly related to whether or not that individual believes in God.
I think the only thing to point to here, atheists, agnostics, Christians and others, is that humans aren’t perfect. They all make mistakes. Whether God exists or not, I like to think that humans have free will, that our every move is not controlled by some supernatural power. For whatever reason, this priest chose to continue to submerge the baby even though the baby was obviously struggling. I say blame the priest.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 4:46 pm

why do we always think blame must be assigned? why do we want to put the blame on the person/entity we like lease. just curious….
also… i find it interesting that people do those mommy and me swimming lessons at the Y every summer and dunk protesting babies in the water…. just sayin’….

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posted July 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I think that assigning blame often serves a purpose. By understanding exactly what went wrong, we may be able to learn. However, having made many mistakes myself, knowing that I was the one to blame for something bad happening, I know that being the person who is blamed is a terrible, terrible feeling. I cannot even imagine how this priest must feel right now. Perhaps it was his fault, but as a society, we should recognize his suffering as well.

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posted July 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm

To be quite honest this event doesn’t shake my Christian faith at all. It is incredibly sad. I can’t imagine the pain the parents or the priest are going through. I am a mother and it breaks my heart. But the fact is that priest or man on the street, incredibly poor judgement was used. Human life is more important that any religious ritual like this and any one should be able to make that judgement call. And frankly, the parents should have stepped in. I can’t imagine standing to the side in this situation, I don’t care who was holding my baby. Maybe I sound a little too black and white here, but we all have free will and are sinful and need to be aware at all times of the consequences of our choices. And it really does stink when we have to deal with those consequences that are bad, but who can get around that?

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posted July 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Jason…I don’t really understand the term “Christian tradition.” There are so many different denominations, and within each denomination there are people who grew up in the church, people who are brand new believers, people who just going through the motions to impress someone else…even people who have never gone to any church regularly at all identify themselves as Christians.
Alise…Unfortunately, some atheists do attack Christians. I’m pretty sure that Christians have been persecuted by atheistic communist governments time and time again. You said “If an atheist does something that causes another harm specifically because he’s an atheist, then yeah, I think they should be painted with the same brush.” I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I don’t think all atheists are evil just because of what some have done.
Lauree…I don’t mean to assign blame to anyone other than the priest who was at fault. And even there, I don’t know the full circumstances.
I feel that ultimately, each individual is responsible for his/her own actions.
I just thought of something…I’ve heard of priests, (and preachers and Sunday School teachers) who, secretly, have doubts of their own, maybe even have totally given up their beliefs in God. I guess they have too much invested in their careers to admit it openly. I wonder, would you call a priest or a pastor who didn’t really believe in God a Christian? Or an atheist?

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posted July 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm

A few months ago I watched a video of a friend’s baby being baptized into an orthodox religion. I couldn’t finish the video. The baby was submerged three times, each time, it emerged from the water screaming and gasping for air. This happens during every immersion baptism and is apparently very normal. Perhaps if I had grown up watching this performed safely I would have different feelings, but as a parent, I couldn’t watch the video even knowing everything turns out fine. I still have nightmares about it. I think sometimes we get desensitized to things we are told from birth are okay. I would like to say “I would have grabbed the child from his arms.” And as it stands right now, I would have. But if I had grown up with those experiences, I don’t know what I would have done.

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posted August 18, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Ok I agree with this article completely. That is so messed up that a pathetic priest killed a little boy over something that is make believe. WOW! Fuck that.

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Rob the Rev

posted October 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

In the Lutheran tradition that I pastored three congregations over 25 years I baptized by pouring a little water over the crown of the head of the infant that was held by the parent or sponsor. No danger in drowning the child with that practice. Sure glad that we didn’t make a big deal about how much water made for a legitimate baptism.

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