I know these two topics are the controversial issues that should be avoided in most discussions, but I feel they are important conversations to have, so I'm going to make an attempt to explore. Starting with my own religious upbringing; my mother was raised Catholic, my father was Lutheran, they eloped and didn't attend church until I was 5. We joined a Congregational church that was close to our house and became active in the church community. My father served as a Deacon, my mother joined the women's group. I sung in the choir and eventually became a Sunday School teacher. When I was of the age to start classes for confirmation, I was denied entry as I hadn't been baptised. My parents let me chose my godparents (I chose Myrtle's parents) and I was baptised at the age of 13, just one week before my confirmation. I have since converted to atheism (I could start a whole new blog about that...) but I feel it was still necessary to have that religious exposure early in my life to have the perspective I have today. I have a lot of respect for those who find a role for God in their lives, but it just doesn't fit with where I am now.
My parents are pretty open minded people, and they made an effort to set that example for me. When I was 12 and wanted to watch the moving Dirty Dancing, my mother had to explain the abortion issue with me. She presented it as what it was; didn't reference if it were good or bad and didn't offer her own opinion. When a gay couple moved next door, my parents also gave a matter of fact description (which was much like Phoebe's song on Friends "Sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men, and then there are bisexuals, but some just say they're kidding themselves...la,la, lah, la-la") They didn't offer any commentary. My father was a registered Republican, while my mother is a Democrat. During the 1992 election campaign, they made me watch both conventions to determine my own party affiliation.
Somehow I don't feel that I could be that patient or tolerant. Maybe it a reflection of our changing times, but it we do have a child, I'll lay it out to him or her; you will be pro-choice, you will support LGBT rights and you will register as a Democrat. However, when it comes to religion, I don't want to be that determining. I would like him or her to have adequate exposure and arrive at their own conclusion. I will hope that he or she would chose atheism, or at least chose a religion that doesn't condemn me and Husband for being atheists.
A few weeks ago, Myrtle and I were speaking on the phone and were trying to wrap up the conversation. We each had tried to explain why we needed to hang up and get on with our day, which only let to talking about a new topic. On the third attempt to close, she mentioned, "I know this is awkward to ask you, since you don't believe in God, and it requires you to provide 'spiritual guidance' but I wanted to ask you if you wanted to be a godparent first, otherwise I'll ask Helen (a college friend)". My first thought to myself was to acknowledge that I couldn't accept. How could I perform in the capacity of providing spiritual guidance when it's something I don't believe in? How wrong would it be for me to stand in a church and agree to this commitment with my fingers crossed behind my back? I don't want to be disingenuous just to accept a title if I don't really deserve it. I have imagined that my role in providing spiritual guidance to little Myrtle would be if she wants to question the existence of God and learn about atheism. Can you be an anti-godparent?
I politely declined her offer and shared our conversation with Husband later that day. He was really pissed at me firstly for not discussing it with him (he is absolutely right, I should have) and for turning down the offer apparently, I could refuse. He was annoyed when none of his friends back in England selected him as a godparent (presumably because of the distance; again my fault) and saw little Myrtle as his only shot. I questioned which was more important to him, the title or being true to his beliefs? However the doubt was creeping in my mind and I was regretting answering so hastily. As Myrtle's parents are my godparents would it not complete a circle to be little Myrtle's godparents? Myrtle is the closest thing I have to a sister and was bestowing a great honour to me. Should I not have been so selfish and set aside my own beliefs for the benefit of those around me?
I arrived at my own conclusion and I accept the consequences of my words. Interestingly, I conferred with some of my religious friends who felt that being a godparent was more of a social role as they felt that they didn't necessarily receive any spiritual guidance from their own godparents. I also consulted a few atheist friends, and a few thought I should have accepted. "God is abstract, but people are real," one told me. I also realised how much heavier the regret will be if I don't ever have a child of my own and I passed on being a godparent.
Surrounded by my own remorse, I did the next logical thing; question the sincerity of Myrtle's offer. It was a 'by the way' as we were hanging up the phone. We would be seeing her in two weeks, she could have asked both of us in person. Was she really just giving me first refusal, or getting my blessing before asking Helen? Myrtle's husband is Catholic and I'm sure it would appease her mother in law to have a genuine practicing Catholic as her granddaughter's godmother. When Myrtle got engaged, she delicately approached me about having Helen serve as her Maid of Honour. I was actually happy to be relieved of the duty, as it would have been difficult due to my busy schedule and the cross country distance. I told her that I know what she and I mean to each other and I didn't need a title to prove it. Myrtle send me a text after she asked Helen to be godparent and acknowledged, "you two are already family, you don't need the title as godparents."