​Veto On Baptism

December 08 2019 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I was born into a practicing Catholic family where great importance was also placed on observing all the commandments. My marriage was a happy one until three months ago, but after our son was born my husband, who believes that all religions are “the opium of the people,” told me that he is dead against having our son baptized. He believes we should at least wait until he is old enough to decide for himself. My parents and I are disappointed, and this matter is creating tensions in our marriage.


Although you are asking one question, you are really describing at least two problems. The first is the question of what to do about baptizing your child. The larger question, however, is what to do about the failure of respect in your marriage. This second issue is really the foundation of the first problem.

Many people have spouses who either do not share their faith or, at least, their level of commitment to their faith. Some couples manage these differences quite well. Others do not. For couples who experience their faith as a source of conflict, the problem usually has very little to do with religion and everything to do with respect.

We tend to think that respecting someone means being nice to them. Of course, it does mean that, but it means much more. Respecting someone ultimately means that we work hard to see the truth, goodness, and beauty in all the things that person finds true, good, and beautiful—especially if doing so challenges our own preferences or so-called, ‘comfort zone.’

When a couple respects each other, even if they are not in the same place spiritually, the less religious spouse works hard to appreciate the importance and value the more religious spouse places on the various practices, devotions, and beliefs that shape his or her life. Less religious spouses who respect their more religious mates, will do what they can to not only tolerate, but actually share whatever they can of their spouse’s faith or religious practices. For instance, they may attend Mass even though they don’t receive communion.

Less respectful spouses will either adopt a controlling – borderline abusive – “don’t do that religion stuff around me” attitude or, at best, may take a “you can do that religion stuff as long as it doesn’t affect me in any way” approach. In either case, the tension that results is not a religion problem, but a problem rooted in a lack of respect.

A good test of what’s really going on is to take the focus off religion altogether. Ask yourself, when you and your husband don’t see eye to eye on any other issue, is he able to listen respectfully to your thoughts and work with you to find a mutually satisfying solution? Or does he tend to either dictate what he wants to do or, at best, tell you to do your own thing as long as you leave him out of it? If the answer is the latter option, your problem has nothing to do with religion at all and everything to do with the fact that your husband has little to no respect for you.

If this is the case, you will need to seek professional marital counseling not only to resolve the baptism issue, but also to deal with the failure of respect in your marriage overall. This lack of respect means that your husband barely sees you as a person, much less a person worth listening to. You will need a third party who can advocate for you and provide your husband with an important reality check on his narcissistic tendencies.

As for the question of baptizing your child, I would suggest meeting with your pastor to discuss your situation. Each of us belongs to God first. No one has a right to stop you from presenting your child to God, not even your husband. That said, how you proceed will require pastoral guidance to address whatever serious and legitimate concerns may need to be dealt with along the way.

In the meantime, try to appreciate the fact that the Holy Spirit is using this experience to show you that, as a daughter of God, you are worth more than you have been settling for in your marriage. Lean into the graces you are being given to bring your relationship to a healthier and godlier place.

Updated on December 08 2019