Sunday, December 10, 2006

The atheist godfather

Here we go again. I've been recuited coerced to become a godfather for the fourth time, this time to my sister's second child. In so many words I've already told her no, but three weeks later she's still on my case. A couple of days ago she informed me there's going to be a pre-baptismal "seminar" for the parents and the godparents (at least one of the godparents should be present during the one hour session). I thought she was kidding when she said I'll be joining them at the church. She wasn't. This means war!

My sis and I have always been very close and she's been my confidante for years and years. She knows all too well how much of a nonbeliever I am and how religion (theism) makes me go ballistic. As young children both she and I and our brothers as well had been baptized Catholic. We all attended Catholic schools. While our two other siblings are pretty much church goers, she isn't a practising Catholic. The only time she and I ever find ourselves sitting on the pews is during weddings. To top it off her husband is even less of a Catholic. I doubt he even knows what that gobbledygook docrtine of the Trinity is supposed to be (not that he'd be better off cluttering brain space with all that theological nonsense).

So why in Kuan Yin's name are the parents having their child baptized? I haven't asked her directly and even if I do I don't think she'll be up front about it. One trivial reason is that it's traditional in this country to baptize children. Having been a colony of Spain for 400 years, Catholic Church tradition is deeply rooted, just as it is in Mexico. But given what I know about the couple I think the primary reason they're going through all the trouble is her husband thinks having their children baptized confers upon them some supernatural protection of sorts. He's quite a superstitious fellow and observes Chinese superstitions and rituals to ward off evil and court good fortune. He's into feng shui and auspicious dates for this and that. So it isn't far fetched to extrapolate that for him the rite of baptism has an important payoff--perhaps it's like some invisible talisman for life, a force field if you like, that protects his progeny from harm (real physical harm, not the intangible spiritual kind).

When my sis reminded me of the upcoming seminar I kind of got annoyed. I wanted to tell her, "Are you deaf?! I said no!" But then the other day I had a "change of heart." I don't know if you can call it a gestalt shift, but I suddenly saw it from the other side, so to speak, and realized that the one hour catechism course is going to be a perfect opportunity for me to find out what drivel the Catholic Church is currently dumping on its members. So, in a 180-degree turnabout, I'm now pretty enthusiastic to be there to hear the facilitator say her piece, and be entertained. It's going to be on Tuesday night. I'm so very tempted to let it drop that I'm an atheist. I just want to find out how the lady who's going to be leading the seminar and the priest(s) will react. Will it be a show stopper? Will they turn to the parents and say I can't possibly be permitted to be a godparent? It ought to be interesting. Of course, if it comes to that, I'll be breaking my sister's heart. So I'll have to mull over whether I'm going to let it slip or bite my lip and just be keep those faith-heads in the dark. Decisions, decisions.

As to why my sis and brother-in-law are so hellbent on getting me--the most strident atheist in town--as one of the godparents, I think it's because I'm so fond of their two kids. I just love them so much. But that precisely has been my point. Why do I need to be a godfather when I'm already their most visible uncle, when I can't help but shower those adorable nephews of mine with affection (and presents and chow every now and then)?


Anonymous said...

very interesting post. I have recently faced a similar situation with my brother asking me to be godfather to my nephew, and me a full on atheist. I had to decline as I thought that I would be a terrible hypocrite and liar if I stood up in a church and swore to have some kind of religious care of the child. It was quite difficult because I kind of felt that maybe I was taking principles too far and getting too serious about the whole thing. Plus my brother had to rope in some second rate replacements. The main reason why they were getting the kid christened was not because they are particulary religious but because its all apparantly part of the game of getting your child into the best local school here in London. The best schools being run by the church and regular church attendance and christening a prerequisit of being able to get on the school roll. Lots of people do it apparantly. I made it clear to my brother that I intended to take an active part in the rearing of the boy through exposing him to all the alternatives to religion - philosophy, science, humanism, art, etc. Ultimatly godfathering is not a major undertaking really, being a good uncle is more important.

Edwardson said...

Thank you for sharing that. I learned from my sis that she intends to enroll her kids in my and my brothers' alma mater. She says she likes the values imparted by the Catholic schools we siblings went to. I didn't want to debate her when she told me this. No hurry right now but I will surely point out to her how it doesn't follow that her kids can't get whatever good values she has in mind from other schools or for that matter outside school, from her for starters.