Yesterday, my brother asked me to be Godfather to my newborn nephew, Ben.
I declined and now my decision has caused offence to my brother and a rift within my family. No one – it seems - objects to being made a godparent. No one. What is more, I shan't be attending the christening. You can’t make me. Shut up.
I am an atheist. Not a part-time, everything happens for a reason, there might be something out there, nothing is impossible atheist. Not a vegetarian who eats fish atheist. I am not an atheist who believes in karma, nor do I wonder if God is watching me masturbate nor do I respect the sincere beliefs of others. Sincerity does not a truth make. Nick Clegg.
I am an atheist. I believe in what we test and prove and question and KNOW. I have never seen inside my own head but I know - I KNOW - that there is not a mouse inside it called Robert. If the Pope believes in Robert the mouse then he can take a jump off the Torre San Giovani. There is no Robert, there is no God and vegetarians have no excuse for eating fish.
How on earth could I be Ben's Godfather? You might as well ask John Prescott to be your nutritionist. I had been expecting the call…
ME: Oh hi, you okay?
BROTHER: I wanted to let you know that Ben’s christening is next weekend!
BROTHER: So...we hope you can be there.
BROTHER: And, we were also wondering...we thought it would be nice...well we would really like it if you would consider being one of Ben's godparents.
ME: Oh. Well...that's very sweet of you. I'm touched, but…
BROTHER: Oh I'm so pleased...
ME: What would I have to do?
BROTHER: Oh just say a few words, nothing heavy.
ME: What words?
BROTHER: Oh just that you'll help Ben to live his life in the worship of Christ's Church.
ME: No, I can't do that. I'm an atheist.
BROTHER: Yeah, I know, but...
ME: I have sex with men.
BROTHER: Can't you just drop that for once and...
ME: Not really, no. I'm doing it tonight. Look, you know I don't like the church. I believe christenings are the pernicious indoctrination of innocent and unknowing children.
BROTHER: Right. I think it's a shame.
ME: Neither of you have ever been to church.
BROTHER: We got married in a church.
ME: Only because you liked the pillars. Look I am proud to be Ben's uncle but I'm sorry. Really, I am. I can't be his Godfather.
BROTHER: Fine. Okay. I guess I understand.
ME: Plus the trains to Milton Keynes from London are terrible on Sundays.
He sounded angry and hurt. After the call, I looked at my blank phone and wondered: Am I being churlish? Pig-headed? Selfish? Irrelevant. But before you judge, take a moment to consider the vows I would have to make on poor Ben’s behalf.
- Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
- Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
(Um...yes, but not because God tells me to. Shut up.)
- Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
(I dunno about God but my neighbour is well angry when I put the bins out a day early.)
- Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
(I am more likely to turn to Pol Pot.)
- Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
(With that beard?)
- Do you come to Christ the way, the truth, and the life?
(No, I come to Christ the way of London Midland Trains which is why I am late, angry and frazzled and the backs of my trousers smell of Stella Artois and urine.)
My friends think I'm an idiot. Apparently, this christening is about Ben, not me. They are wrong. This christening, as with all christenings, is about parents celebrating their new baby and wanting to share their pride with others. I understand that but I don’t see why they would wish to express their feelings by asking a stranger to smudge Ben’s forehead with Anglican water from the tap out the back.
I do feel bad. I love my brother and Ben seems inoffensive enough when he’s quiet. But if I go to the christening - If I become a godparent – wouldn't I be the worst kind of hypocrite? What kind of example would that be to set to my young nephew? If I am to teach him anything, it must be the joy of free and rational thought. The honour of standing by one's convictions. The quiet dignity of he who stands as a pillar of truth against the ebbing swirl of received theological wisdom. The importance of shopping around before buying trainers.
If I go to church and swear God's allegiance in Ben's name, wouldn’t it be a betrayal? And anyway, I would really struggle with the trains. Ben wouldn't want that…would he?