Sunday Morning Survey – ‘Can I Attend A Christening Without Being A Hypocrite?’

Sunday Morning Survey – Because, Let’s Face It, I’m Not Going To Be Doing Anything Else This Morning.

This one was posed by the Guardian Newspaper and it struck me as fairly relevant to my life and perhaps to yours as well.

My nephew and his fiancee have a baby son and I have been invited to attend the christening. But as a staunch atheist I find the whole idea of welcoming a baby into a religion repugnant; I would feel a hypocrite attending a ceremony that I disapprove of so strongly. On the other hand I really do not want to hurt the feelings of the parents. To add to the dilemma, I would be the only representative of my nephew’s side of the family apart from his mother so I feel I “should” be there. If I overcome my principles and go, there will then follow other invitations to other christenings – so wouldn’t it be easier to make my feelings known once and for all? Or should I climb down off my principled perch and stop being so pompous? I just can’t decide!

This kind of quandary is relevant to me because some of my friends have kids or are in the process of having kids. When they start having kids, the kids are little. As in really little. Kind of squeeny-kitten-y.

One is expected upon visitation to coo sweetly over little eyelashes and things like that, whereas I can do that for about ….thirty seconds? Then I start checking out just how many cool toys the little squeeny-kitten have already accumulated before they even developed fingernails to pry at said toys. Which leads me to realise that one of the benefits of being a parent is that you get to buy lots of things that you really would have had a wild time with back when you were the kids’ age but thankfully these days we don’t judge when a thirty-year old goes for a bounce in the inflatable Dalek. Well, I don’t judge. Much.

Christening, however, is generally (well, you never know, one day I might be surprised – I’ve gone to some interesting wedding ceremonies in the past after all…) done without inflatable Daleks and requires visitation of a church (although I might be surprised one day by a non-religious christening? Naming ceremonies are different, yes?). Sometimes, one’s friends (for a variety of reasons) may choose to christen their child. This can be problematic if you don’t believe in a God. Or have strong views in regards to what is exactly being asked of people involved in the baptism ceremony and (sometimes) the audience for the ceremony.

I’ve also had lengthy discussions with friends in regards to how the young person who is being baptised might very well develop strong points of view about being included in such a ceremony, but since their attention-span doesn’t even appear to take in the novelty of certain toys for longer than ten seconds, it’s a little difficult to factor in exactly what they may think of the whole business – despite empirical evidence of the occasional surprised and affronted howl upon the application of water, in a big echoing building, by a person that they know isn’t one of their parents.

Should you think of it as a social ceremony rather than a religious one? At what point should you say something, if you feel as if you have to say something? Which denomination would you ‘absolutely draw the line at’ if so?

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.


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