Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Enough to Drown a Small Dog

Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who is an ordained Southern Baptist Minister, recently warned that President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could force his religion to begin using less water to baptize believers. . . . Huckabee worried that if the president could mandate that Catholic institutions’ health insurance cover birth control for women then what would be next?

                                                                     - The Raw Story, June 20, 2012

What, indeed? Baptism, in case you're unfamiliar with the practice or can't remember your own, is basically noodling for Baptists. A good old Baptist baptism, like a noodling party, needs whole rivers to come off with aplomb and just the right amount of espiglerie. How much is enough? In some theological circles, there's never enough when bringing souls to Jesus.

Why some people might think waterboarding isn't torture

Rev. Huckabee's Baptists have refined the art of immersion to include both portable baptismal pools and water heaters, on the twin premises that 1) you never know when or where you might need to baptize something, and 2) that no one should ever suffer for their faith. Still, it seems that whether your sins are washed away in a chilly public watercourse or in a heated private receptacle, the EPA should be able to regulate the use and disposal of such water on much the same considerations as it regulates proper disposal of other hazardous waste (just think of sin as metaphysical radioactivity).

Nobody does it like the Baptists - unless it's the Catholics, who sublimate the need for 1250-gallon tanks with special furniture and pretty plush vestments - you won't see Fr. O'Shaughnessy wearing a red #19 football jersey when manning the font. The fonts themselves can vary in ornateness and finish, beginning with the basic Bulgarian model below, which has presumably also held such homelier substances as boiled cabbages, laundry, horse bones, a litter of dogs and the nearly lethal Bulgarian version of aqua vitae (a known cause of blindness in laboratory rats).

In fact, modesty in accoutrement and the responsible use of water resources seemed to be the rule before baptism became a competitive sport in which the various sects vied to find the blood of the Lamb in their local aquifers. Here is an ancient Roman photograph depicting a simple Christian ceremony in which a mere handful of water suffices to represent the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost and all the ships at sea, and to attract the generally unwelcome attention of some Roman soldiers who, in what bears every hallmark of the ideal creative situation, may be about to invent waterboarding . . .

But what the Bulgarians may have lacked in the refinement of their liturgical utensils was more than compensated by the Renaissance Italians . . .

. . . who long held the field for baptismal fonts until the Mormons did for baptism what Esther Williams did for synchronized swimming, or Leona Helmsley for piss-elegant hotelierie . . .

. . . which is kind of odd when you think about it, because why do you need water to baptize the dead? It seems a little club soda would work at least as well. But in Utah they go for the de luxe model, complete with a herd of bronze steers - first you get baptized in it and then what . . . the waiters fill it with champagne?

But Huckabee raises an interesting question of governance, representing as he does the Party of Small Government. Under his favored political regime, the Justice Department or the various states' attornies general would regulate the dissemination of contraceptives; the availability of medical procedures such as abortions would be contingent on watching government-mandated sonograms recorded by government-mandated ultrasounds administered by government-regulated doctors who would legally have to have their hands where they've no business being in the first place.

Huckabee's religious views on specific reproductive health questions are getting a broad hearing from state legislatures across the country. It seems high time for a compromise between the evangelical right on the . . . well, on the right, and the EPA and the Department of Agriculture, the agencies that oversee water use. What we need is a sort of baptismal rule of thumb that everyone can accept in a spirit of compromise, evangelical broad-mindedness and true ecumenism. To baptise one person, you can only use the amount of water required to drown a small dog. More than that would just be spiritual pride.

"Go ahead, baptize me, I dareya!"

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