This isn’t something that I go around shouting from the rooftops or anything, but—I’m an atheist. I’m a decent person (at least, I like to think so), and I don’t have horns growing out of my forehead. I don’t worship Satan (indeed, as an atheist, I don’t even think that Satan exists, let alone that he’ll do me favors if I wear all black and act like a prick). I don’t eat babies, and I haven’t hung out with a coven of witches since that one time in college.
Religious tolerance in the United States frequently does not extend to nonbelievers. Although I’m perfectly comfortable being an atheist, it seems most Americans aren’t comfortable with being around me. Even though the number of Americans identifying as “without religion” is growing quickly (as high as 15% in 2008), atheists are one of the least trusted segments of modern society. Look around at the frenzy of homophobia and hatred spewing forth in the wake of various same-sex marriage rulings. Pretty vile, isn’t it? Well, the American public is more likely to vote a gay candidate than an atheist candidate to public office. By about 10 percent! Being an atheist is such a black mark against your perceived character that exactly one Congressman has the balls to be openly nonbelieving, a councilman’s atheism was used to try to oust him from office in North Carolina, and the accusation of being a secret atheist is a popular weapon for idiots and sophists.
All that said, I don’t hold any animosity towards believers—of any stripe. “Bemused indifference” would be an accurate description of my opinion of the hyper-religious, and I can of course understand the strength and comfort that faith can bring to believers in times of need. I tend to enjoy the messages of peace found in all religions and recoil from the horrible shit that pious humans do to each other every day: killing albinos; repressing women; molesting children, etc., etc.
So imagine my surprise when my wife and I were asked to become godparents a few weeks ago. I said we don’t shout from the rooftops, but we’re not exactly shy. We were shocked — and touched, of course — but then we had to take some time to think it over. My wife’s cousin had a monumentally difficult pregnancy, and her daughter was born with any number of problems and spent the first few months of her life in intensive care. If there’s one child on earth that could really use the hand of god over her, it’s this little girl.
Yet another wrinkle is the fact that my wife and I decided years ago that we didn’t want to have children. Though we hold only “bemused indifference” for our family and friends who are so eager to have children, we just don’t want them ourselves.
You can see where I’m going with this. How could we in good conscience take on the spiritual upbringing of a child, being both godless and childless? Ha! Trick question: we’re atheists, so we have no consciences.
It wasn’t a hard decision. For one thing, when a friend asks you to do something as important as be the vice presidential name on their parental ticket, you just can’t say “no.” We did have a talk about what exactly they were asking us to do, though. Did they want us to convert and sponsor her through communion? Were we going to be written into the will as the first phone call after a catastrophic car accident?
Neither, apparently. They just wanted us to be a part of her life and to be a part of her spiritual education, introducing her to everything from Judaism to Wicca and letting her make her own decision when she’s old enough. I guess with our expertise in writing and computers (me) and art and science (my wife), they had decided that we were super cool. Joke’s on them, though, because we’re actually just nerds.
Still, there’s no jokes I can make that would downplay the obvious honor this is. It was extremely touching, and we already love the child like family. Our first act as godparents was to go straight to Barnes and Nobles and get a crapload of baby books. I may not be having kids, but if I’m having a hand in raising a human, I’m going to make damn sure that she’s a ginormous book nerd.
Sorry in advance, kid. You’re stuck with us.
Blame your parents.
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater