Why I would not attend a Child’s Christening
I would have no reservations about attending a church for a wedding (other than my own) or a funeral (again, other than my own!). I hold no principles that would prohibit such a visit to a place of worship. Of course, I would not participate in any of the religious rituals that either a wedding or a funeral may entail. I would also not join in with the singing of any hymns, not as a point of principle, but for the safety and well being of those who could hear me. It is fitting that I don’t believe in angels, because I certainly don’t have the voice of one.
The reason a wedding or a funeral wouldn’t bother me, is that I don’t have a problem with either of these ceremonies, in and of themselves. If I attended a wedding, I would simply be joining in the celebration of two people I know declaring their love for each other, and their decision to make their union official. If they want to do that in a religious fashion, that is their business, their free choice as consenting adults and of no concern to me. Likewise, if I attend a funeral, I am paying my last respects to someone I know who has passed on. Again, whether through the choice of the immediate family or through their own intentions expressed in life, if the funeral is carried out in a religious setting, so be it. Everyone has the right to hold religious beliefs, and the freedom to deal with such situations in a religious manner.
This is not the case with a Christening. I am rigorously opposed to the religious indoctrination of children. I agree with Richard Dawkins that it is a form of child abuse. I think that children should be taught how to think, but not what to think, and then left to make their own decisions as young adults, with no adverse consequences for a deviation away from the family’s religion. A Christening is affectively the opposite of this. It is a case of the parents making a decision on behalf of the child, initiating them into a religion the claims of which are not even understood by the child, let alone accepted and believed.
Even with the Anglican Church in Britain where strong religious belief is quickly waning, and membership is seen more as a traditional British institution rather than a world view or belief system, the Christening of children is nothing short of indoctrination. Although their beliefs are innocuous in practice on a day-to-day basis, their perpetual lesson that faith and tradition are acceptable reasons for belief, rather than evidence, creates a breeding ground for the infectious bacteria of fundamentalism. The child who is Christened through tradition will, no doubt, have her own children Christened through tradition, who will also carry on the tradition. The chain needs to be broken.
Were I to attend a Christening, my very presence would condone this abhorrent act. When you are invited to a Christening, you are being asked to participate in the celebrations of a new member joining the faith. This is something I could not celebrate. I could not sit in silence as either a baby, oblivious to the very nature of the world it had recently joined, or a child too young to understand the true nature of religion and its consequences, was ceremoniously declared to be a Christian. Once again I am in agreement with Richard Dawkins that we should not label a child with the religion of its parents, something of which the tradition of Christening children is a prime example.
I should point out that while I’ve used a Christening as the discussion point, my argument would apply in exactly the same way for a Jewish Bah mitzvah. I have also been careful to stress that it is a child’s Christening I would not attend on principle. I can not completely rule out the possibility that I would attend an adult’s Christening in very special circumstances. It would have to be someone I loved and respected greatly, and I would have to be completely satisfied that they were sure of their decision. Even then, the idea doesn’t sit comfortably with me, but it would be judged on a case of individual merit rather than principle.