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Baptism: only a religious tradition or not?

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

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Author: Adrien PERNET

Date of Publication: 26/04/2022

Today, baptism is a word that is used for many reasons. For example, we use it when we have to make our initiation to an activity. Also, it is the first experience of combat in the army with the famous "baptism of fire". Consequently, it is not only a purely religious word. But it would be interesting to know what (religious) baptism still represents in our society and how it has evolved.

Baptism, what is it?

First, what is baptism? Baptism is a religious rite that is shared by most Christian churches. Even today, many families decide to have their newborn child baptized. This will mark the child's entry into Christianity and the parents will have to give him a Christian education. Therefore, it is the beginning of the development of faith that takes place from baptism (note that it is the first of the seven sacraments of a Christian). Then, the baptized person is purified from his sins and reborn in a way with a more divine aspect. Thus it is becoming a child of God.

religious iconography

The baptism ceremony follows a simple but precise ritual. Specifically, it was a common practice for the infant to have been completely immersed in water, but today the priest pours water on the infant's forehead while making a sign of the cross. This water is none other than the symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ.

It is not mandatory for parents to baptize the child within the first few hours of birth. This is why some wait until the child is old enough to understand so that he or she can make the choice. However, baptism was done at a very early age, partly because infant mortality was very high, in order to ensure their entry into heaven.

But what is the origin of baptism? The first mention of Christian baptism is found in the Gospel according to Matthew (3:13-17), where Jesus Christ's own baptism by John the Baptist is recounted. However, something similar was found in the Jewish religion with the mikveh, often considered the ancestor of Christian baptism. Even earlier in the Mesopotamian civilization, a relatively similar process used to take place.

Is baptism a dying rite?

Should we be concerned about the future of Christian baptism? To tell the truth, it is not easy to answer this question, as it is not easy to find the data. Nevertheless, it is certain that the rate of baptism in populations tends to fluctuate over the years.

baptism ceremony

There is a study by PARADOX'OPINION for La Vie that could be interesting for us concerning the number of baptized people in France. Thanks to regular surveys, it has been possible to estimate the number of baptized in France. According to the average estimate of the study, there would have been 44.1 million French people baptized in 2015, or nearly 70% of the population. This is a figure that is still quite high. But this result should be quickly put into perspective: according to the same study, the number of baptized is decreasing in France.

Indeed, if the number of baptized remained relatively stable until about twenty years ago, a progressive decline has occurred. A projection for 2045 has been made, and this figure is likely to fall to 35 million people. This is still relatively high, but the total population will continue to grow. This downward trend can be seen in other ways: if the average age was 38 in 1990, it could be 54 in 2045. In other words, in France, the younger generations seem to be less and less baptized, unlike their elders.

But can these figures be applied to the whole of Europe? Not so sure.

a monument

While it is difficult to find sufficient data, we can assume that the French case is neither an exception nor a generality. This obviously depends on the relationship to Christianity, which is changing more and more from one country to another. If Christianity seems to be in decline in Europe, there is apparently an upward trend in the world. And even in Europe, there are many disparities. There should undoubtedly be some connection with the number of baptized.

For example, Western Europe (France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom, for example) seems to be losing interest in Christianity, and this is evident in the number of baptisms, if the French example is anything to go by. This would probably be less the case in parts of Europe that are still very attached to Christianity, such as Romania, Poland, and Italy.

What you should retain from this article

As you have seen, baptism is a rite and a tradition that constitutes one of the obligatory passages for a Christian: it is even the very first. It symbolizes the entry into a more spiritual and divine aspect. Like any tradition, it tends to fluctuate with time. This is particularly the case in Europe. Although according to the Pew Research Center, 76.2% of Europeans identified themselves as Christians in 2010, European Christianity is showing a certain loss of momentum, especially in Western Europe.

Therefore, if baptism used to be taken for granted, it is not necessarily the same now. But don’t be too hasty in this reasoning: European Christianity still has a bright future ahead of it. It would be interesting to see it in another article with statistics related to Christianity in Europe and in the world.


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