Oh, man. The things y’all do for religion. I’ll be honest, I don’t even think piercing babies’ ears is a good idea. It’s one of my pet peeves: jewelry on babies, clothes on dogs and wearing perfume in a movie theater (c’mon people, it’s a room with tons of people in close proximity and no ventilation, use some common sense.)
Turns out Coptic Christians think it’s a-okay to tattoo a small cross on the right wrist of even the youngest of miniature Jesus acolytes.
My problems with this practice are manifold, and might be different than you’d expect. Of course, there’s the knee-jerk reaction of seeing a child in pain, but it’s probably about comparable to circumcision or ear piercing, honestly. They claim it takes about 30 seconds, and based on some video evidence, this doesn’t quite meet the international guidelines for torture.
The meaning behind the tattoos, which are apparently ubiquitous in the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, is rooted in the claim that Coptic Christians were tattooed by 7th Century Arab conquerors, marking them as not Islamic. True or not, the tattoo is now seen as a way to publicly proclaim one’s religious beliefs in a country where they are a distinct minority. And therein lies the problem. Well, one of the problems.
I don’t know about you, but I was not learned in the ways of the Lutheran faith when I was baptized as an infant. And whether their parents, community or anyone else wants to accept it or not, these kids are not Christians, Coptic or otherwise. No child is born with inherent religious beliefs. I’m sure that the majority of these kids, if not all of them, will grow up to be practicing Coptic Christians, and most likely there won’t be much regret around these tattoos. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve lost any ability to make their own choices, from whether to get a tattoo to what religion, if any, they accept.
Obviously this applies to all children forced into any religion, but baptism doesn’t leave a mark, and even indoctrination can be overcome. A tattoo is a statement of faith that a child, especially a baby, cannot possibly make.
As someone who rejects all religion, it has always seemed wrong in the most obvious of ways that religion should be seen as in any way hereditary. Religions are systems of belief, a set of doctrines, edicts and foundation documents. How can you join a group you know nothing about? A group that might ultimately not have your best interest at heart, in some cases.
The truth is that religions are social groups first. Each and every person within that social group is free to accept or reject everything espoused by their group, to varying degrees, of course. In America, you can be Christian and live a very Unchristian life. In theocratic countries, you might be held to account by your neighbors and/or government if you don’t follow strict guidelines, at least publicly.
I hope I live to see the day that babies and young children are not tattooed, subjected to indoctrination, or forced to endure genital mutilation in the name of the religion of their parents.