I must begin again with a qualification. Not one of the points of argument or criticism in this article are concerned with the question of whether or not there is a God. Nor am I interested in anything he may, or may not, have said or done but I am sharpening my knives for some of the people who say and do things in his name. After-all the Roman Catholic Church is a man-made empire regardless of their reasons for beginning it in the first place. Every one of it's theological doctrines relating to this topic are the words of men not Gods. Each of it's pre-conditions and rules come from the mouths of men claiming they understand the mind of their celestial master. Whether a believer or not, you have no reason to accept any of the things these men have been telling you and even less reason to allow yourself to be influenced by their self-ordained (quite literally) moral authority.
'De Omnibus Disputandum' - Karl Marx
Three weeks ago my sister Mairead asked me if I would be my little niece's Godfather. My other siblings had all done it for the other children so I guess it was my turn. After initially declaring my unease and taking some time to consider whether I would be able to do it, I finally had to say no. I thought about it quite a lot and more than almost anyone in my position would. Because of this I know she respected my decision even if it was disappointing. That doesn't stop me feeling an acute sense of despair at having to let someone down. Since then, when I have mentioned it to a few of my friends I have found it difficult to articulate effectively my reasons. Most people find it a bizarre thing to have done, I suppose because it is so often an automated response to say yes. Anyway, as a method of absolving myself somewhat I thought I might stick some reasons down in a word document.
Each of Mairead's three children have been conceived through IVF and now each one of them is a baptised member of the society that considers their very conception unethical and sinful. This disgusts me absolutely and is one of the core reasons why I refused the request. But if a child's parents can accept the evil paradox in full knowledge of the facts then I don't think it is my place to proselytise to them directly. So I shall proselytise to you instead...
You know they think these children are illegitimate? You know they think it violates a marriage because the process includes masturbation? You know they think the scientists and doctors who deliver you a baby this way are villainous murderers because some of the eggs are destroyed along the way? You know they tell people that children conceived through IVF are more likely to have birth defects without resolving the scientific reasons behind it (The birth defects are more related to the initial problems regarding the parents infertility than they are to the IVF process)?
Remember, these are all church teachings and not the word of God. This is why it was impossible for me to stand up as a proxy for this church's inscriptions on the blank moral canvas of my five-week old niece. She still has me always, just not like this.
At some point during my considerations it was put to me that myself and my siblings had not been pushed in the direction of Catholicism or Christianity, not really. It is a typically apocryphal description of how religions operate in Ireland and in my case it is simply wrong. The apparent hereditary character of religion should probably be proof enough of this but anyway, I will elaborate. I 'am' Catholic and I didn't have any choice in the matter. I went to two Catholic schools, both of which took time away from teaching English and Maths to shove their own religious diatribe down our throats. Even this might be seen as the broadening of a childs mind to help them develop a spiritual understanding. But it never was that, it was always awful indoctrination. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the only eating we ever did was on the Roman Catholic wafer. I wouldn't even have known Islam existed then or that eastern philosophy might help me develop spiritually. At that time I would barely even have been informed that there were a million other forms of Christianity. Obviously those protestants were wrong!
The supple brains of young children will accept what they are being told as indisputable, grass is green, blood is red, God is great and he is Catholic. So it becomes very difficult to change afterwards and even when it does, open dissent carries a burden of shame for some people.
I really have trouble with any kind of indoctrination. Anything that tells people what they should believe or feel about something only encourages narrow-mindedness and intolerance. Thinking for yourself and being yourself regardless of what other people might want you to be are the greatest things you can hold on to. If only I had a little more confidence I may have been able to dissent earlier than I have.
I live in Northern Ireland, a country historically segregated along religious dividing lines. Violent, murderous dividing lines and although I am not naive enough to think religion was it's only defining factor, no-one could excuse it of some of the shared culpability. Yet we continue to propagate the dividing lines by forcing our children to join us on one side before they've even spoken a single word. Tony Blair once remarked in a debate about how touched he had been at a meeting that bridged the religious divide in Northern Ireland. Christopher Hitchens then hung Tony by his own petard when he asked him in a gloatingly droll tone, "Where does the religious divide come from?" I always think of Hitch when I think of religion in Northern Ireland.
However far we have come, protestant and catholic are still attached as labels and the ludicrous prejudice and suspicions persist towards the other despite a more enlightened population. I hope that when I send my children to school that the factors determining their destination do not in any include their membership of one church over another. I know it seems utopian but it shouldn't be.
It is possible that you think I have been totally selfish here. That I have made a mountain out of a molehill and that I should have kept my mouth shut and gone along with things like everyone else does. I can understand that but it is not the way I want to do things. I genuinely think the baptism is a bad thing and that it would have been extremely hypocritical for me to have gone through with it. It would have been a completely vacuous ceremony if I had been involved and anyway I hope that my little niece would rather have an uncle who actually gives a fuck about her to say no for the reasons I have.