Infant damnation

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Infant damnation is the idea that infants who die before being baptized go to eternal torture in Hell, because they inherit original sin which can only be removed by baptism. It's a contentious issue in certain branches of Christianity, with many sects outright rejecting it, even as others hold on to a cruel and outdated bit of theology. Regarding baptism and salvation, scripture tells us that it is only through confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and His redemptive work on the cross that we may be saved. Baptism is the outward show of what has happened on the inside when we receive forgiveness for our sins and confess Jesus as Lord. Baptism cannot save so christening a baby cannot save the baby. See John 14:6 and Romans 10:9-10, to cite only two regarding salvation.


[edit] Earlier days

Up till the Medieval epoch and beyond it was assumed that unbaptised infants were eternally damned. See the following example, from the 4th century:

Be assured, and doubt not, that not only men who have attained the use of their reason, but also little children who have begun to live in their mothers' womb and have there died, or who, having been just born, have passed away from the world without the sacrament of holy baptism, administered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, must be punished by the eternal torture of undying fire; for although they have committed no sin by their own will, they have nevertheless drawn with them the condemnation of original sin, by their carnal conception and nativity." (sec. 70.)
—Bishop St. Fulgentius,[1]

This did and still does cause terrible suffering for Christian parents who were unable to have their babies baptized in time.

[edit] Modern times

Many Christians just assume that innocent children go to Heaven when they die. The Roman Catholic Church traditionally taught that unbaptized infants go to a place called Limbo, until they found no scriptural or other justification for this belief. Today Roman Catholics seem to accept (with no small amount of discomfort) that something or other happens.[2] The Roman Catholic Church itself seems to not know what happens to unbaptized infants, and Popes have detailed at least four different positions supposedly "clarifying" the situation, but in reality generally contradicting each other.[3]

In many Protestant sects, the belief is that all children below a certain age automatically go to heaven if they die. In Left Behind, for example, all children under age 8 are raptured, regardless of their religious affiliation or the religious bent of the family they were born into. They are considered too young to be able to decide for themselves whether Jesus really is their Lord and Savior or not. The age at which the switch over from "innocent" to "guilty" occurs is known as the "Age of Reason" (no relation to the Thomas Paine monograph). Catholicism has an Age of Reason too (age 7), but in Catholic doctrine its only benefit is that no venial sins committed before reaching the Age of Reason count toward your time in Purgatory -- you'll still be barred from Heaven forever if you die unbaptized. Some fundamentalist or traditionalist Catholics still hold the belief that unbaptized infants go to Hell.

[edit] Abortions and miscarriages

What happens to the souls of the aborted babies? Since they don't believe in Limbo or reincarnation, they are stuck with two possibilities:[4]

  1. The babies go to Heaven. Since that is the ultimate goal and only desirable outcome of living the fundamentalist life, you have to wonder why they're so against it in this case. Perhaps because this would imply that all unborn babies should be aborted to ensure their souls are saved. It should be noted that Calvinism holds this position.[5]
  2. The babies go to Hell. This raises some rather sticky questions about God's supposed mercy and benevolence, especially as it's been estimated that two out of three pregnancies end in miscarriages, usually before the women are even aware they're pregnant. Arminians are, rather unfortunately, forced to hold this position if they're living their beliefs right.

Another possibility is that sufficiently undeveloped fetuses have not yet had souls attached, which would render the whole question moot. But at what age the soul manifests is not explained, except in SubGenius doctrine, which says it occurs when the child is 15 years old. (Yes, they approve of abortion up to the 47th trimester.) Muslims usually believe, although it seems to depend on which "authority" you ask, that the fetus is not "ensouled" until 120 days after conception; if you believe this then it's OK to have an abortion before that time. Jewish authorities peg it at 40 days. Although they make no reference to souls, most bio-ethicists consider experimentation on embryos after they reach the primitive streak stage (14th day) to be unethical. [6]

[edit] The wider picture

Fundamentalist Christians are fond of quoting John 3:5 which states Jesus answered: Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. This raises the question of infants who, whilst not aborted, have not been baptized.

  1. Arminians believe that conversion alone enables salvation; this casts doubt on the salvation of all babies and children who die too young to experience conversion. Really, it's a pretty terrible situation to be in, as to be consistent in holding those beliefs you A) need to accept that the deceased were to young to convert or B) you ignore it and go on to other topics
  2. John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon believed the doctrine of infant damnation was reprehensible and believed the Holy Spirit in some way saved those who die very young (assuming that the deceased was part of the elect). [7]
  3. Some passages in the Gospels can be interpreted to suggest that children go to Heaven if they die. [8] [9] [10]
  4. Dante's Inferno posits that, although unbaptized babies do go to hell when they die, they go to the nice, plush-carpeted outer ring of hell where there's no eternal torture. It was Dante's way of having Limbo without calling it Limbo.

For outsiders, especially those who have held a newborn infant in their arms, it seems a trifle harsh that their souls are condemned to eternal damnation simply because their parents are godless commies or they are too young to convert.

[edit] The wider wider picture

You'd better believe that as much as the church hems and haws about sending babies to hell when confronted by freethinkers, they're not afraid to use this asshole doctrine to scare and traumatize believers into toeing the line when outsiders aren't looking[11]. Nothing but nothing motivates parents sucking up to church policy like the threat of roasting babies[12] Scientology would burn with jealousy at this naked manipulation.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. Things They Don't Tell You About Christianity
  2. How can limbo just be abolished?
  3. Popes have taken Four Contrary Positions on the Fate of Unbaptized Infants
  4. Wryte The Voice of an Aborted Child
  5. Misrepresentations of Calvinism Cleared Away. Spurgeon, Charles, circa 1861.
  6. The President's Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. July 2002.
  7. The Arminian Doctrine of Infant Damnation
  8. Matthew 19:14
  9. Mark 10:14
  10. Luke 18:16
  11. "Nothing indeed can be more curious, nothing more deeply pathetic, than the record of the many ways by which the terror-stricken mothers attempted to evade the awful sentence of their Church. Sometimes the baptismal water was sprinkled upon the womb; sometimes the still-born child was baptized, in hopes that the Almighty would antedate the ceremony; sometimes the mother invoked the Holy Spirit to purify by His immediate power the infant that was to be born; sometimes she received the Host or obtained absolution, and applied them to the benefit of her child. For the doctrine of the Church had wrung the mother's heart with an agony that was too poignant for even that submissive age to bear." Rationalism in Europe, i, 362-364. Quoted here.
  12. This isn't a new viewpoint. People were complaining about this bullshit back in 1852.
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