Baby, it's you
Head to head We have civil weddings, so why not civil baptisms? Lord Young puts his case for a new `baby-naming' ceremony against Catholic convert Ann Widdecombe
Saturday 05 September 1998
"I'm an anthropologist and sociologist; my greatest concern is that we're losing our rituals as the influence of the church fades. In every other society except ours, births are a cause for celebration. More than half our babies now enter the world without any rite of passage simply because people no longer go to church. These ceremonies would be best off in church; in the meantime we need to replace the lost rituals. The ceremonies are already happening, in people's gardens, hotels - but we want to make them more mainstream, we are suggesting that registrars lead them.
The ceremonies last 10 to 20 minutes, and, like baptism, focus on the promises made to the child. They're frequently moving experiences; parents and godparents have to make very public promises. One grandmother, initially against the ceremony, said how overwhelmed she felt by the love expressed. They're empowering: one mum commented that if she had had her baby baptised the most important decision she would have made would have been what to wear. They bind families together; in the case of unmarried parents the two families may never have met.
What we're trying to do is underline and assert the responsibilities to the child. You can't preach family values from the pulpit, via politicians or Parliament. It's a bit like a civil wedding. Most unmarried fathers think if they've signed the birth certificate they have equal rights to married fathers, which is incorrect, so we're looking at the legal implications as well. This wouldn't be a burden on the State; people would have to pay for it, like weddings. It could even increase revenue."
Lord Michael Young of Dartington is a Labour peer and founder of the Baby Naming Society, 66 High Street, Pershore, Worcestershire WR10 1DU (01905 371 070)
"The ceremony is a load of rubbish for the very simple reason that there is no need for it. There is a need to have a civil equivalent for a marriage ceremony because marriage is a specific state recognised by law, but baptism is not about naming the child, it's about the child's entry into the Church and therefore there is no point to a secular equivalent. I'm sick of this business, people want it all ways, they reject the Church but they want the equivalent ceremony. Well, forget it - it's totally namby-pamby.
There is an obvious analogy with baptism in that a lot of people have a child `christened' because it's the thing to do, but that child won't grow up a practising member of the Church unless the parents go to church regularly; similarly, the parents won't have the attitude towards their child that they just announce at any old baby-naming ceremony unless the attitudes were there in the first place. It's just a nonsense - a glorified birthday party.
If you want to give unmarried fathers `rights' then you do that through the law itself, not through some cack-handed ceremony. A father already has responsibilities in law and can be pursued by the Child Support Agency, and if he's so keen on claiming his rights why hasn't he married the mother, and given the child a stable upbringing of a father and a mother? I don't think the ceremony undermines the role of the Church at all, and I see no reason why the Church should start compromising. If people don't choose to go to Church there's nothing on earth to stop them welcoming their child in their own home. Frankly, if you bring it into the realms of the registry office, it's a waste of time and effort."
The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe MP is shadow health secretary and former Home Office minister
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