Andrew Darley is asked why he wants to be a godfather to his brother’s as-yet-to-be-conceived child and puzzles over his answer.
It’s no secret that family means everything to me. Yes, it’s soppy and clichéd but I’ve always counted myself lucky that I love the company of my parents and siblings. Coming from a family of five – although we have our individual personalities and livs – I’ve got their backs and they’ve got mine. For this reason I have always thought to myself that I would love to be a godparent to one of their children, should they ever have them. This wish (and its likelihood) became greater last year when my eldest brother and his wife said they wanted to start a family.
It wasn’t until a close friend of mine outright asked me “Why would you want to be a Godfather if you don’t believe in God?” that I began to mull over it. The question had never arisen and I was surprised that it spurred an intense feeling that I was being challenged about something I instinctively cared about. On that day I could not and did not have the answer my friend sought. For a few months the question sat with me, to’ing and fro’ing the justifications of my future hope and opening up to the validity of her question: Why did I want to be a Godfather when I don’t even practice or believe in religion?
After a while I began to forget about it. The subject reared its head again in the unlikeliest circumstance after I watched Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend earlier this year. Not only is it a superbly authentic portrayal of gay lives and relationships but something very minor in the film stuck out in a major way for me. In a scene where the central character is ready to leave for his goddaughter’s birthday party, his new romance quizzes whether he believes in all that stuff. Russel quickly affirms that he doesn’t but stood for the child because his best-mate since childhood asked him to. These two or three lines in the film made complete sense to me. Here was a character that put his beliefs, rather non-beliefs, aside to honour the request of his friend.
Resurrecting the issue with my own friend a few months after the initial conversation gave me time to reflect on her original query. It soon became clear why she questioned my desire to be a godparent due to the actual act itself: to ensure and encourage God in the life of a child. At first I thought it was a fair point to put to me, until I swiftly had to disagree. During my adolescence, my belief in God and the organised religion diminished. My disbelieving didn’t grow from some teenage rebellion or objection to the one line in the Bible that forbids men to lie with other men; rather I simply recognised the holes scientific evidence can punch in the very idea of a higher power. Religious studies in school further revealed the cultural construction of religion: the version of ‘God’ people worship largely depends on the society you are born into and what part of the world you live in.
With all this on board I decided that God did not exist for me. Nonetheless, it does not mean that I do not believe there was a man that walked this Earth called Jesus Christ or that I’m unable to appreciate the importance of religious faith in other people’s lives. I still uphold a strong moral code (being a kind and good person to others etc.) which correlates with Christian ideals, I just don’t need to say the prayers that go along with it.
Responding to my friend pointing out that the godparent ensured the presence God in the life of the child, I could give her an honest reply that I could fulfil that godfather duty. Fair enough, I would not be jumping out of bed on a Sunday morning to run up to mass but I would maintain an openness about religion and certainly would not enforce my own beliefs. The most important thing a person can have is choice and more importantly informed choice. I went on to explain that the reason why I would love to be a godparent is because they play an extra-special role in a child’s life when it comes to support, advice and special occasions in their life. And to be honest, it’s an honour to know a friend or family member regards you in this way to take on such a role.
My own qualms about being a godparent threw light on how I saw bigger issues of the ever-waning practices and beliefs of Christian religion in today’s society. Originating primarily from the pagan celebration of the Son of Isis and Roman Winter Solstice tradition, the Christian religious significance of Christmas (as we know it) has been lost on the public at large since the invention of Santa Claus and now exists as a day invoking a shopping furore a month beforehand. Also, Holy Communion and Confirmation have now become opportunities for children to get dolled-up and gather money off generous parents, relatives and neighbours. Call me a cynic but the notion that children under the age of 13 have been indulged with limos, fake tan, acrylic nails and after-parties on a day which is meant to signify their commitment to their faith totally misses the point.
If Christian traditions such as Christmas and Confirmation have been lost in translation in recent years, what too is the role of a godparent today? Is it as my friend posed “to ensure God in the life of a child” or is it more realistic to expect a godparent to make a commitment in being a guardian to their loved one? Perhaps, being a godparent today simply means being the cool one to go to with something they can’t tell their parents? To me, the personal relationship that can comes with the title greatly outweighs its religious purpose.
If and when I am asked to be a godparent by a family member or close friend, I will take up the proposition with pride and modesty. It’s a fine feeling to be loved by those you love, but it is even finer when you can show them in return. Amen.