When my big sister asked me to be Godfather to her third child l knew I had an existential decision on my hands. For most people – those who don’t describe themselves as “an atheist more militant than Dick Cheney with a hard-on” – being asked to be a Godparent is an honor they wouldn’t hesitate to accept. But for me, someone who would rather hear DMX commentate a monster truck rally than listen to a religious sermon, the request posed quite the conundrum: Do I stand by my deeply-held principles or do I betray them in order to support a loved one?
The last time I was faced with such a dilemma I opted for the former and decided to continue my longtime boycott of taking out the trash rather than help my mom clean up the kitchen.
The reason my sister didn’t ask for her first two children was because she knew my atheism ran deep and figured I’d be uninterested in acquiring a title with the word God in it (unless, that is, the world was finally prepared to refer to me as The Goddamn Man, a nickname I think I’ve earned). She also knew that merely contemplating fatherhood made me sweat in really weird places.
But now she was out of options, had exhausted her short list of potential godparents, and was desperate enough to ask her heathen-of-a-brother for a solid. It was a bit like when the boys of The Sandlot let Scotty Smalls play left field even though he didn’t know Babe Ruth was a man – because there was simply no one else available.
I told my sister I’d have to think it over and went to weighing the pros and cons.
I first had to admit that I actually liked the idea of being called “The Godfather.” I once tried to get my high school girlfriend to refer to me as such during dirty talk, but it made her laugh so hard we had to stop having sex altogether. Apparently my ability as a lover was not as God-like as I once thought.
It was also fitting because, since a young age, I’d been in the habit of making people offers they couldn’t refuse. Like in the 5th grade when I told Ben Harding that he could either lend me his rad bicycle for the weekend or I’d tell everyone in school how he liked to eat his own boogs. Or when I gave my neighbor Brian Baldini the option of selling me his Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card or being served a delicious knuckle-sandwich. (Baldini made the wrong choice and walked around for the next month with a black eye and a fat lip.)
On the debit side of the ledger would be the idea of professing to a room full of people (and a bunch of old men in funny costumes) that I believed there was a benevolent entity in the sky who looked over humanity and monitored our every move, even though I actually thought there was a better chance Ryan Lochte would win a MacArthur genius award.
As most atheists admit, it’s certainly possible that there’s a God. Though it’s also possible eating Taco Bell every day won’t clog your arteries and having sex with prostitutes named Monica Motor Oil won’t give you herpes.
With this prospect in mind I had to wonder if a powerful deity I’d enthusiastically denounced might take offense to my presence in a place of his worship. The New York Knicks’ greatest enemy, Michael Jordan, got booed every time he walked into The Garden. (And yes: I like to think of myself as the Michael Jordan of atheism, and have seriously considered adding this to my resume.) Was heckling allowed in church? Would the fundamentalists throw their nachos at me? Was it possible my shorts would burst into flames the second I landed in a pew? Are you allowed to wear shorts in church? Did God hear me call him “the greatest terrorist of all” that time I debated religion with a bunch of strangers on facebook? Would he punish me by making me lose control of my bladder in front of the entire congregation? Does God have a sense of humor? Does he think bodily functions are funny? I assume he must. He is the inventor of the fart after all.
After giving it proper consideration I told my sister I was in. I’d be her son’s Godfather under two conditions. First, and most importantly, I would henceforth be known as The Godless Father (to remind folks of my true metaphysical position and because I’m pretty sure my family would murder me in my sleep if I didn’t stop doing Marlon Brando impersonations in public places).
And secondly, despite the lies I was willing to tell the priest running the baptism, if I were ever actually in a position of raising the poor child, I’d be free to tell him that it was perfectly fine to question the claims made by Catholicism – especially those having to do with virgin births because I think it’s important for young men to know that conception is never immaculate (nor is it supposed to be ;)) and should always be treated with respect. Conception is a bit like jumping out of an airplane: before “letting go” one should consider all possible (and life-altering and bloody) consequences.
In the end, the decision was actually pretty easy. My being a brother and uncle is more important than my being a person who doesn’t buy everything he’s pitched. I couldn’t in good conscience tell my sister no; or, for that matter, my cute little baby nephew, who, like Bruce Willis in Look Who’s Talking, is somehow able to speak and would surely have told me to kiss his very pampered buttocks if I denied his mother’s request. Besides, people go their entire lives pretending there’s a God. I suppose I could it pull off for a few hours.
On the big day, I donned my nicest attire (and by “nicest attire” I mean the dress shirt I owned with the least amount of food stains on it) and prepared to lie my ass off to a priest. How does one prepare to lie to a priest, you might ask? Well, it’s actually similar to preparing to play the game of football. 1) Smear eye-black on cheeks 2) pull on jock-strap 3) inject forearms with animal tranquilizers and 4) convince yourself that it’s a perfectly safe endeavor and you’ll make it out alive as long as you stay away from dudes who like to punch young boys in the crotch.
In a way, my being an atheist made this prospect much easier. I have no problem telling a few lies to a priest if it’ll make my sister happy because, in my view, there is exactly nothing special about priests. They are just people, and churches are just buildings, and the Bible is just a book. Which makes lying to a priest no different than lying to the salesman at Barnes and Noble who asked me if 50 Shades of Grey was my favorite novel.
Because I don’t make a habit of wasting my weekends in a church (because they don’t let you bring booze and weed) I made sure to pay close attention to the service. Most folks had probably heard it all before and were only there for the attendance points (which makes church a lot like boring college classes that you think might actually make you stupider if you listen too closely).
In fact, I’d bet that no one was paying more attention than me; most people were either playing on their phones or corralling incorrigible children or asking each other if they remembered to set the DVR or just sitting in a sort of general space-out that consisted of a lot of neck cracks and barely veiled sighing. The priest could have called for a genocide of the world’s entire population of baby kittens and I’m not sure anyone would have noticed.
Church is a place where daydreams are truly perfected.
Mostly the priest rambled on about the resurrection, which Catholics seem to be particularly obsessed with. It makes some sense though; most people are desperate to believe that death isn’t the end, which is why they worship a man who purportedly proved that it isn’t. Although it might be noted that the people who served as “eyewitnesses” to the “event” were a bunch of illiterate women who probably had so much sand in their eyes they couldn’t see past their own noses.
The priest told everyone listening that they should love God above all else, which I find entirely impractical. I mean, is this admonition supposed to include pizza rolls? What about morning sex? Surely this priest doesn’t expect me to love God more than naked women and Italian food.
This is my big problem with religion: It’s incredibly self-deceiving. Love thy neighbor? You mean the one who insists on playing Insane Clown Posse until four in the morning? Who cooks really weird Indian food, the stench of which seeps straight through the walls? Who drives a supped-up Honda Civic which he apparently believes necessitates not one but two parking spaces at all times. You mean that neighbor?!
Jesus clearly never lived in an apartment building.
Probably the oddest segment of the service was when a middle-aged white couple, who I first took to be professional Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar impersonators (which, for all this atheist knows, is something that happens in church), took to the lectern to tell the assembly, in truly jarring detail, about their once-failing marriage, and how counseling and the power of prayer helped save it. It was basically a 20 minute infomercial on how talking to an imaginary friend can help you move past your husband’s infidelities. But is this really appropriate commentary for children to be hearing? Is of this stuff appropriate for children to be hearing?
Most parents won’t let their kids watch an episode of Law and Order, but they’re perfectly fine drubbing them over the head on a weekly basis with a violent story about a bloody crucifixion, a reminder of which hovers ominously above the pews in the form of a Giant Crucified Christ, nails-through-the-hands-and-feet and all.
With that said, I bet Jesus would make a fine marriage counselor. You’d barely have to speak because he would instantly understand your woes (having heard it all before and already knowing exactly how you’d articulate it). Plus he’d always know if you’re wife was telling the truth when she said she never thought about giving Ted Byers, your son’s karate instructor, a blow job. And he’d surely possess other-worldly relationship advice (“Don’t go to bed angry…or without praying to ME!”). Though I do wonder if his open-toed shoes and dusty robe would make for appropriate office attire.
The priest then droned on and on about Jesus and his 12 homies apostles. One thing is certain: Jesus’ squad was deep (“out front of Four Seasons looking like a damn football team” all repping one thing . . . the divinity of Christ Almighty). I mean, how many people can claim they have not one but two close friends named James? I wonder if that ever got confusing? Did one have to go by Jim or James #2? Was the one who went by Jim jealous of the James Jesus clearly liked better?
In many ways, the 12 apostles were the original frat bros. I wonder what kind of initiation Jesus put them through. Did they have to drink themselves silly for an entire week and wash all his dirty socks? Did Jesus give them terrible nicknames and make them wear pink tank-tops in public?
I’ve always found Judas to be the most interesting apostle. The guy betrayed his best friend for a little bit of cash, which makes him a lot like that asshole who got Patrick Swayze killed in the film Ghost. Just like Jesus, Sam Wheat lived on in spirit and brought his betrayer to justice. Come to think of it, that entire film seems to be one big allegory about the story of Jesus’ death, with Whoopi Goldberg representing the very first Christians (who were certain they could communicate with a murdered man) and Demi Moore being those who were skeptical but were ultimately converted through the power of miracle.
Twelve has always been a significant number for me as well. It was the number I wore when I played little league, and also happens to be the number of women I’ve slept with. I’ve been stuck there for years because I have a serious case of triskaidekaphobia and will thus require a threesome for my next go-round so I can skip 13 and jump safely to 14. Any and all takers can reach me at 614-555-5555.
(This joke is such a gross overestimation that I can not let it go without disclaimer. I have not had sex with 12 women, unless we’re counting really affectionate plastic dolls.)
I also don’t understand the thing where everyone shakes hands with the people around them. Surely there’s a better way to foster feelings of community and brotherhood – at least during flu season. Yes, I would like peace to be with you, but I would also like your germs to be with you. A fist-bump would be much more sanitary. Or, you know, we could do that thing where you grab the other guy’s forearm like they used to do in Ancient Rome.
When the tithing baskets started to circulate my baby niece wanted to drop something in so I pulled a one dollar bill from my wallet and handed it over. She placed it in the basket and I felt a cold shiver envelop my entire body. I don’t always donate money to the Catholic church, but when I do I feel extremely uncomfortable about it.
In fully embracing my role as a one-day Catholic, I realized that I would make an incredible spy. I’d infiltrated an organization I loathe and no one was the wiser. In fact, I blended in better than a gay man at a Cher concert. I was even able to recall some of the prayers, which were apparently drubbed into my head adequately as a child, before I quit attending CCD classes. And when I say quit attending I of course mean that I got my parents to stop making me go by throwing tectonic-meltdown-level tantrums an hour before we were supposed to leave every week. I basically pummeled them into submission with my prodigy-like ability to be stubborn and emotional at the ripe age of 9, until I no longer had to do the thing I didn’t want to do. But I’m sure this will-power comes from the spirit of Jesus Christ, and not the fact that I’m a descendant of a bunch of screaming animals.
Once mass fiiinally ended, and all the snot-nosed riffraff vacated the premises, the baptism began with a series of inquiries from Father Willard, a jolly-looking fellow with grey hair and a belly that protruded gently from his green and white cassock:
Do you renounce Satan and all his empty promises?
Not if Satan really looks like Elizabeth Hurley I don’t, which according to the (surprisingly not Oscar-winning) film Bedazzled she does. I’d sell Satan my soul if she looked like Elizabeth Hurley. Hell I’d sell her my nephew’s soul if she looked like Elizabeth Hurley.
Do you believe in the God the Father, the almighty, the creator of heaven and earth?
Well, seeing as I have trouble making a turkey sandwich without getting mustard all over myself it’s a little hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of someone successfully creating an entire earth. That the big man built Heaven isn’t quite as impressive. Just a bunch of empty air and clouds really. Maybe the occasional pearled gate.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
Whoa. Talk about a loaded question. And coming from a complete stranger no less. I don’t even like telling the guy at CVS my phone number so I can get a discount on cheap wine and Cheetos, so discussing my thoughts on the most important matters of life and death with someone I’ve never met and have no reason to trust is a little difficult. I suppose I recognize that Jesus (or a man very much like him) did exist, but do I think he can read minds? I certainly hope not. At least not when I’m thinking about Reese Witherspoon and what color of panties she may or may not be wearing. Plus the only Mary I ever knew loved the ghetto D so I’m skeptical about the whole Immaculate Conception bit. And can we talk about how the idea of Jesus’ resurrection is basically the original zombie story. They killed the guy. They buried his body. Then he rose from the dead and when people noticed him they shrieked real loud. If Rick Grimes had lived in Jerusalem circa AD 30 he probably would have put a hatchet through Jesus’s skull.
I hope none of this constitutes blasphemy.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Again, highly loaded. I appreciate it as a time-saver though. Life is way too short to spend a bunch of time going through the motions of silly religious rituals just so you can say you did. As for the Holy Spirit – if I understand it correctly, and I think I do – it’s basically like God has crop-dusted everywhere and we’re all walking through it constantly. I believe that’s what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. The communion of saints might explain why I keep hearing the voice of my great-grandfather, a deceased Irishman named Liam, rattling on about how there’s never enough whiskey in the goddamn house. The forgiveness of sins, and the idea of The Scapegoat as a whole, is a) really macabre b) dark as hell c) super weird d) makes me uncomfortable and e) probably immoral.
A short list of sins I’ve committed that Jesus apparently needed to die for: 1) I once stole 32 cents off my sister’s dresser (that’s one quarter, a nickle, and two pennies). 2) Once, in the 4th grade, I sketched a cartoon God into one of my binders. He had a long white beard, sandals, and highly unflattering shin bones. Melanie Reznick told me it was a very bad thing and then ratted me out to the teacher. I’m sure she lives in a nunnery today. 3) I once said goddamn around fifty times in about three and a half minutes. It was the verbal aspect of my reaction to the Red Wedding. The physical aspect came later, when I cried for 2 hours straight and considered sending George R.R. Martin a death threat 4) I once thought that a Sunday morning was a Monday morning and accidentally drove all the way to work until I realized it was still the weekend and no one was there. 5) I once had sex on my parent’s bed, which wouldn’t have been too dishonorable if I had washed the sheets before they got home. But a Step by Step marathon was on that day and I forgot.
Is it your will that Kane be baptized in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you?
Not exactly. But it is my sister’s will, and she’s kind of a bad-ass so I don’t really want to cross her. Hey, cross her. Get it? Religious puns are my favorite kind.
My brother-in-law lowered his son’s head over the bird-bath of water and Father Willard drizzled some onto my nephew’s tiny face. Then he smudged some oil of the catechumen across his forehead in the shape of a cross and we all mumbled the Lord’s Prayer in unison.
(Which is actually a beautiful little poem. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is some really decent writing. Too bad we can’t just enjoy it as art, and have to pretend it’s more than what it is. Because if Jesus really did write this, then he’s not currently getting his due as a poet.)
Because my zany mother is technologically inept she actually asked Father Willard for a “re-do” so she could snap a proper photograph. The Father was a good sport about it and we all laughed about the fact that we couldn’t take our mother anywhere. This made my nephew’s baptism a bit like soldiers raising the American flag on Iwo Jima during WWII – redone and staged for the purpose of capturing the necessary photographic evidence.
And with that, my nephew was officially integrated into the Catholic Church (no longer had to worry about being stuck in purgatory, which seems a lot like being in line at the DMV, not sure if you’ve completed all necessary steps to get your goddamn license back). As for me, nothing I saw the day my nephew was baptized has made me rethink my views. If the next time I order a pizza Reese Witherspoon shows up with it wearing pink lingerie then I will admit that God exists. Until then I shall remain The Godless Father.