What Would You Include in a Secular “Baptism” Ceremony? August 6, 2010

What Would You Include in a Secular “Baptism” Ceremony?

I received an email from a father on behalf of his wife and 14-month-old daughter. They never baptized their baby and the grandparents are not too happy:

… I find the idea of something as innocent as a baby needing to be cleansed and purified of the sins of her (non-existent) ancient ancestors through an indoctrination process of which she has no say in the matter repugnant and insulting.

It was only after a series of heated dialogues that my fiance began to share my view and we were able to come to what we see as a perfect compromise. Her primary attachment to the Baptism was not grounded in metaphysics but rather family tradition. To her, assigning “godparents”, or moral teachers in which we recognize and trust in helping mold our daughter into a compassionate, ethical, and well-rounded person, is a sign of respect.

Our idea, which we find very progressive, is to have a secular ceremony to honor these moral teachers and to celebrate our daughter’s purity. Of course, planning from what I can tell is a completely unheard of ceremony and taking special measures to leave god out of it is proving some degree of difficulty.

I’m not sure how our families will react to this, but I imagine most individuals will take it quite well, especially we have a well-thought and cohesive presentation. I think a general theme could be summed up perfectly by a quote from Dan Barker:

“You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil — you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace, and joy. Trust yourself.”

It’s really a shame that we have so few events to celebrate our development, growth, and compassion that aren’t grounded otherwise appalling dogmas. If you or any of your readers have any advice or ideas regarding a ceremony of this kind I would really appreciate hearing them.

What would you include in such a ceremony?

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  • Viggo the Carpathian

    I wouldn’t. I think the idea of baptism is too loaded with religious concepts to be doable.

    I don’t think that you can separate the concept from religion. Teaching the child to think critically and well is the best affirmation of humanity.

  • Many christians who don’t believe in infant baptism have dedication ceremonies where their children are brought into the community and there is a pledge to share the community with the child and for the community to welcome and support the child.

    I think something of that dynamic could be incorporated here with the event capturing the hope, the potential, the vast possibilities that this new life brings to the family and community while at the same time the community recognizes its role in making a saner, safer, kinder, better world within which the child can grow up and fulfill that potential.

    Celebrating the complexity and wonder of new life and how we as people can exceed that initial wonder through our interactions with each other. No reliance on outside agency-just Humanism at its finest.

  • I wouldn’t have one. What’s described is WAY to similar to baptism for my tastes. I plan to have a little party after one month for my future kid because that’s what my wife’s Vietnamese family does anyway. There’s nothing religious in it that I’ve seen; it’s just an excuse to get together to eat a big meal and give the parents some money. But the “moral teachers” and “celebration of purity”? No way.

  • littlejohn

    I wouldn’t consider it. Why do atheists feel we have to mimic Christian rituals? The next thing you know we’ll be building churches and praying to Charles Darwin. The theists who call atheism a “religion” will have been proved right.
    I thought the idea was to get away from all this.

  • Seriously? If you want to have a party or thank somebody for something, then do it. You don’t need to dress it up in ritualistic nonsense.

  • If this is the problem:

    They never baptized their baby and the grandparents are not too happy.

    Then I wouldn’t have a ceremony like this. It probably wouldn’t satisfy the desire for a religious baptism. If the grandparents are upset that a 14-month-old isn’t baptized, they may be worried about her Eternal Soul (TM) rather than her upbringing.

    In fact, I don’t think I’d have a ceremony like this anyways. If anything, if I were going to have a ritual of some sort where I affirmed all the positive attributes of my kids, I’d wait until they were old enough to understand what I was saying, so that it was actually meaningful to them. Personally, I’d rather just affirm those attributes every day, in the way I interacted with my kids.

  • Gammidgy

    Personally I find the notion of a ceremony questionable in itself. Is it a hangover from a primitive desire to embue certain actions with superstitious meaning? Why should a meeting of friends and loved ones be centred around some solemn rite? Anything beyond a toast or speech is superfluous to the main purpose: meeting, talking, sharing, celebrating.
    Or is that just my preference for informality talking?

  • JP

    I can’t agree with the previous commenters, who say that you shouldn’t celebrate your daughter’s arrival in the world.

    I have no evidence for this at all, but it seems plausible to me that the precursor ceremony of baptism first evolved to celebrate the enormous joy of receiving new life in the world, as this joy would seem to be a universal human experience. So why not reclaim the purity of the ceremony and hold a celebration on your own terms?

    I would simply book a special venue (restaurant, pub, community centre) and include everything I know my family would find fun (food, wine, dancing, music, games). Maybe ask someone you know who is a good speaker to make a short speech (or do it yourselves), about why you’re all gathered and what you are all celebrating.

    Simple! I Hope you have a great celebration.

  • Kimpatsu

    The British Humanist Association offers “naming” ceremonies for newborn children of secular parents.


  • It seems you have the following choices.

    1. Have no celebration

    2. Have traditional baptism

    3. Have purely humanistic celebration

    4. Have combination humanistic and religious celebration where statements from both perspectives are read.

    I wish you luck in making your decisions.

  • Claudia

    To the above commenters, the writer has already gone through the whole ceremony vs. no ceremony question, apparently quite throughly, and come down on the ceremony side, so I don’t think telling him to just not do it is particularly helpful.

    A humanist naming ceremony (see Kimpatsu’s link above) is a great place to start for inspiration. I can forsee a possible complication if water is felt to be neccesary. If you must sprinkle the baby for it to be satisfying, special care should be taken to ensure it’s clear that you are NOT “washing” your baby, because your baby is already quite pure. I think possibly doing it on a sunny day and including water could work out if you go with the “life” theme. The water and the sun are life givers. Your daughter is a beautiful coming together of starstuff. Liquid water and the energy from our sun have allowed us to come into being and furthermore, have incredibly birthed self-aware starstuff, that can think and that can love.

    One of the less convenient aspects of nonbelief is that you don’t have set paths to follow, known ceremonies to carry out. A lot of atheists claim to have no need for ceremony at all, though I’m guessing most of them will at some point celebrate a wedding and do have birthday parties. For those of us who do see value in marking important moments, we have the burden of thinking up ceremonies but also the great liberty of making them personally significant. Whatever your choice, I would urge you to make the ceremony about you and your daughter. If that includes a (not-god-stained) nod to cultural Catholicsm (or whatever) then fine. Just make sure its significant to you and its something your daughter will some day look back on and smile, not something done to appease judgemental relatives in the short-term.

  • One of the parts of a Christening (that’s such a nice word – pity about the connotations) is where everybody renounces Satan and all his imps and goblins and accepts Jebus etc etc. And it’s all very formulaic and a dispassionate description of the obligations and duties of the various individuals.

    I think it would be nice if in the same vein the parents and the “God”-parents, made a small speech, describing maybe their feeling or their hopes for the child or how they think they will be involved in the child’s life.

    I think it’s important to remember that religions assimilated these (secular) life events for their own purpose – as if they wouldn’t have any significance without the beardy one in the sky. It’s good to reclaim them for humanity.

    Oh, also very important, a big party where the baby sleeps, oblivious, in the corner.

  • Tyro

    celebrate our daughter’s purity

    Ick. Something about that makes my skin crawl.

    Next thing we’ll have atheists conducting secular purity balls. No thanks, I don’t want to have anything to do with ‘purity’ or ‘innocence’ – religious or not.

  • Kelly

    What Tyro said. I don’t have any trouble with a ceremony to welcome your daughter into the world, but why must her “purity” be a part of it?

  • Carlie

    Ceremonies are nice. They tie communities and generations together. Religion has co-opted a lot of them, but we still have them. Weddings, funerals, sweet 16 parties, etc.

    I agree on the purity bit being creepy. I assume the writer means pure of mind in that no biases or bigotries have formed yet, but that word is too laden with baggage to be of any use. Other than that, knock yourself out. However, be prepared for right after the ceremony when the grandparents say “That was nice, now when are you going to have the baptism?”

  • What would I include? A baby, some garlic and a blender.

    OK, seriously tradition is a terrible reason to perform some sort of ritual. Tradition is why female genital mutilation still exists. Tradition is why arranged marriages still take place. Tradition is why the English hate the French. Chuck this tradition out of the window, give your little girl a hug and get on with your life.

    Or ignore that and start your own tradition. Just don’t be bound by the bad traditions of your ancestors.

  • It’s about like asking what meat to serve at a vegetarian diner, eh?

  • Ubi Dubium

    Since part of the baptism ceremony for some religions is the naming of god-parents, they could do the secular equivalent. They should already have chosen alternate guardians for their children and named them in their will. (For any of you who have children and no will, go take care of that, please.) At the ceremony, they could announce their selection and the guardians can publicly accept the role and pledge to stay involved with the child throughout their life. This might be a comforting ritual for the religious family members, yet have no religious overtones.

  • Why in the hell would you want to mimic a ritual that initiates the brainwashing of young children?!?

    You want a ceremony to define a point in somebody’s life? Fine – come up with one. Don’t be like the unoriginal/brainless christians who think they are clever by putting up billboards that ask “got god?”, mimicking “got milk?”.

    Use your imagination – after all, isn’t free thought part of the reason for the ceremony?

  • Mike

    It’s like you’re trying to replace the religious rituals with some secular humanistic rituals. I think you should leave all the ritual out altogether. Just host a gathering where everyone can come see the new baby and show their support for the family. Why preform some made up ceremony? That’s not going to appease the religious people in attendance. In fact, it will probably seem like you’re mocking them.

  • A big feast, with foods the family loves and lots of decadent desserts. If the wife’s family leaves the event feeling unsatisfied with its lack of religious fervor, at least they’ll remember that awesome cheesecake. Or whatever.

    Food pacifies the angry beast in all of us.

  • Meredith

    Too bad you missed an opportunity to say a few short words at her first birthday party (at which I assume you had in attendance the people you would like to be her “moral guidance.”) And it’s too late to have a naming ceremony.

    I don’t know, the whole thing feels contrived to me. My mother isn’t happy that I won’t be baptizing my daughter, but I think she’d be furious if I tried to do something that made a mockery of it. There’s no point.

    Wait until her second birthday. Have a birthday party and make specific requests of people to show up with a few words about their hopes and dreams for your baby. Do the same yourself.

  • Michele

    I don’t mind the idea of a ceremony. Having been to a Chinese 1-month-old celebration, I think this is a nice tradition. You have a big meal and invite your friends to celebrate your child’s arrival in the world. Maybe there are speeches, but I’d say rather than focusing on purity or trying to emulate the rituals of a christening, you focus on the child’s potential, your commitment to parent the child, the extended family’s and friends’ commitment to support the parents and the child.

    That said, this will likely not appease the grandparents who want a christening, but too bad.

    For our kids, we just had big first birthday parties for both of them with lots of family and friends.

  • LabRat

    Ehh… sounds like an awful lot of trouble to go to in order to please someone else. The grandparents had their chance; this one’s YOUR kid. If you and your fiance don’t feel any attachment to the religious meaning of a baptism, then don’t baptize your daughter.

    If you’re doing this solely for the benefit of your religious family members, bear in mind that a well-meaning atheist’s “progressive secular baptism” might be a dogmatic Christian’s “insulting godless charade.” You can’t make everybody happy. And some people will never be happy. All you and your fiance can do is raise your daughter in whatever way seems best to the two of you.

    (Also, “purity” celebration = creepifying.)

  • anon

    “If you or any of your readers have any advice or ideas regarding a ceremony of this kind I would really appreciate hearing them.”

    Don’t do it.

    Loving kindness is greater than laws; and the charities of life are more than all ceremonies.

  • Matt

    What would I include in such a ceremony? champagne.

  • Silent Service

    Just have a swim party with a little kid’s wading pool and a paramedic standing by. No the paramedic isn’t for the kids. The paramedic is for the religious members of her family when they go into shock that you don’t have a proper minister trained in the appropriate woo for the baptism.

  • Nordog

    Seems your choice is to either have the ceremony that the grandparents want, or not.

    I don’t see any middle ground.

    Trying to please the grandparents’ desire for a baptism by having a secular ceremony is like trying to square the circle.

    Bear in mind that while baptisms do vary a bit between denominations, virtually every denomination requires baptism “…in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

    Indeed, for most (if not all) denominations a baptism is not valid without that. It’s probably the only thing shared by all the mainline Christian denominations.

    If the ceremony that pleases the grandparents is something you can live with, and their happiness in this matter is more important to you than the discomfort of having that ceremony, then do it.

    If not, don’t.

    Wanting a secular ceremony on your own is a separate question. Many here are against it. But that seems like the opposite side of the coin of the grandparents against not baptising.

    As the parents, it is your responsibility and right to make that choice.

    I wish you well on what must be a difficult decision.

    Oh, and congratulations of the new baby, and long an happy life to you all.

  • TheDeadEye

    Wait 10 more months and have a birthday party. Simple and secular.

  • I too would avoid creepy references to purity. Children, infants especially are profound thinkers busy learning about everything including vast stores of communicative and cultural knowledge we take for granted. Celebrated her voracious mind, not some mystical concept of innocence. There is no such thing.

  • Instead of having a party to celebrate “purity”, I would just make it a priority to celebrate milestones in the child’s life. In a secular world, there cannot be just a single ceremony to cleanse, but rather a lifelong commitment to educate and bond.

  • I think a secular ceremony celebrating the birth of your child is a wonderful idea. Ignore the short-sighted naysayers here – ritual is a wonderful thing and is certainly not the exclusive property of Religion! In fact, humans have been using ritualism to mark and celebrate important moments in life LONG before organized Religion came onto the scene and co-opted it.

    (To borrow from an article in The Intellectual Activist,) The purpose of a secular, ritual new birth ceremony is spiritual, but not in a mystical sense; its source is the profound psychological value of new life and the relationships of the family and community with this new life. The purpose of the ritual is also social, but not in a collectivist sense; its purpose is to publicly declare a family’s values and love for the child, so that others can recognize and pledge their support and care.

    Your decision to celebrate your child’s birth, naming, and familial/community guardianship with a ceremony is a wonderful reclamation of an ancient human rite.

  • Tamara

    Echoing the sentiments of most commenters, this is a BAD IDEA.

    1) the creepy purity thing- this is so weird, this makes me think this guy has issues
    2) a secular ceremony will NEVER please the family, in fact it may enrage them further than if it were ignored (like we did for my 4 children!)
    3) You know what a secular ceremony celebrating a baby’s life is called?? A birthday party. No religion or purity or reading of passages from “satanic” books (this is what the grandmother will say!)

    I think the obsession with creating a ceremony analogous to every religious one is odd. It IS a hard part of being an atheist, but mimicking their ceremonies half-heartedly will satisfy NO ONE.

  • Also, the purity and innocence of children is indeed another beautiful thing to be celebrated, as is our human nature and intelligence. The quote you cited from Dan Barker is really great! You should definitely use something like that!

    I can’t believe these people saying that acknowledging the beauty of a child’s innocence and purity is “creepy”…lol. In my opinion, THESE people are the creepy ones (and really quite ignorant).

  • Eric Lawrence

    As the author of the original letter, I now regret using the word “purity.” It certainly would not be the main focus of the event. I only said in attempt to contrast the apparent innocence of a child to the apparent inherited sin of a child. And yes, while it is a lot of trouble, not having a ceremony at all is not a viable option. Stubborn as we both are, I originally proclaimed that I would take no part in a baptism and could not attend the ceremony in good conscious only to be told that the baby could be baptized with or without me. My fiance and I find this secular “baptism” (which wont actually be referred to as a baptism, by the way) a far better solution and we both are very hopeful about the results. There will be no religious overtones. The sprinkling of water is not necessary and will not be performed. The only religious “mimicry” will be the acknowledgement of symbolic moral guardians. Thank you to the commenter who mentioned them making a short speach. That would be wonderful. And of course, food and drink will be plentiful. Many of the suggestions by all of you have been very helpful and I appreciate them all. While this event will certainly be under a great deal of scrutiny, I’m more optimistic about the reaction of the grandparents and extended family than many of the commenters are. The large majority of said relatives are not even practicing Catholics so far as I can tell. But for some reason they seem hung up on this whole baptism thing. I don’t understand it myself. My guess is they simply want to be included in what they view as an important tradition. Make no mistake, I have no intention of downplaying my own worldview in an attempt to appease to the beliefs of my family (though my fiance has been known to do so). To me, a celebration is a celebration. I just want it to be perfectly clear that god is not invited.

  • Eric Lawrence

    phosphoro says:

    Also, the purity and innocence of children is indeed another beautiful thing to be celebrated, as is our human nature and intelligence. The quote you cited from Dan Barker is really great! You should definitely use something like that!

    I can’t believe these people saying that acknowledging the beauty of a child’s innocence and purity is “creepy”…lol. In my opinion, THESE people are the creepy ones (and really quite ignorant).

    Thank you, phosphoro. That was a was a wonderful thing to say.

  • PJG

    I agree with Tyro– celebrating “purity” strikes me as somewhat creepy and medieval. Celebrate her potential instead.

  • Eric Lawrence

    Victor Says:

    Instead of having a party to celebrate “purity”, I would just make it a priority to celebrate milestones in the child’s life. In a secular world, there cannot be just a single ceremony to cleanse, but rather a lifelong commitment to educate and bond.

    Yes, the event is not entirely to celebrate purity. But innocence and purity will likely be a footnote, if only to contrast the alternative. However, I rather like your closing statement. I think initiating the event with words along the lines of “This is not a single ceremony to cleanse but rather, a lifelong commitment to educate and bond.” would be very elegant and make our intentions perfectly clear. I hope you wont mind if I use your words. 🙂

  • Eric Lawrence

    And of course potential is the name of the game! That’s why I chose the Dan Barker quote to illustrate the theme of the event.
    Any advice on some of the more minor semantical issues? i.e. What do you call a non religious baptism? What do you call a godparent in this situation? I’ve read somewhere that people were using the term “goodparent.” Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though.

  • Talia

    I always say I would follow tradition and baptize my child more as a nod to the generations past in my family that have always baptized their children. I have been an atheist since age 8 so I did not get to reject some of the earlier sacraments that I more or less acquiesced to even as I got older. I do want my children to know the “golden rule” but I do not know anymore since the particularly troublesome image the Catholic church now has. So, I would probably now reject any form of baptisim unless my partner was very keen on it.

  • Children are in a unique state of human existence – they are completely innocent and unable to do evil or harm others. This is beautiful and unique – and good and should be acknowledged and celebrated. The conflicted duality of a mature human’s life and code of values contrasts with the simple purity of a child’s existence – not to say one is good and the other is bad – both are beautiful in their way.

  • Zerotarian

    Unitarian Universalists have “child dedication ceremonies” all the time. They’re one of the most secular ceremonies that UUs do, IMO. So actually, it’s not unprecedented at all.


    At one that I saw, an outspoken humanist in the congregation was named a “goshparent.” 🙂

  • I think the whole concept of a ceremony like this is too tied to religion. It’s definitely not something I would do, although I can see the appeal of having a special ceremony to welcome your new baby. If it were me, I would just plan a “welcome party” or something similar, but leave out any formalized ritualistic stuff.

    One thing to consider is that it might upset religious family members. It’s like you’re aping a Christian ritual but leaving the “woo” out, something that will probably be more likely to offend religious people than appease them. In a way, you’re slamming the premise of a baptism, which is to wash away sins, by saying that your child has no sins and you want to celebrate her purity. If the religious grandparents are at all serious about what baptism means, a ceremony like this is sort of a slap in the face.

    In any case, if you’re really set on having a formal ceremony, there are naming ceremonies and welcoming ceremonies put on by Humanist groups. If there’s one near you, look into that, and if not, your best bet is probably the local Unitarian Universalists. They do things like this, and I’m sure they would tailor the ceremony to fit your needs.

    What do you call a godparent in this situation? I’ve read somewhere that people were using the term “goodparent.” Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though.

    I’ve also heard the term “guideparent,” but I’m not sure if that’s any better.

  • How are you “aping” a “christian ritual” when the concept of a birth ritual is universal and predates Christianity?

    Expand your view beyond the United States in the last few decades, please.

  • Phosphoro, the original letter referred to baptism several times, and baptism is a Christian ritual. It was stated that the grandparents are upset because the child has not gone through this ritual. I was just pointing out that having a similar ceremony while leaving out religion might upset them. Or it might not; I don’t know. But I didn’t say anything about birth rituals in general. The letter sounded like they are looking for something very similar to baptism, which is why I brought up the mimicry aspect.

    For Andrew, I did find a description of a secular baby ceremony that I thought sounded very sweet:

    We had a wonderful non-religious ceremony last year when my daughter was about 5 months old. In my case though, we did not have to worry about offending the religious sensibilities of family members, as only my friends attended, who are all very artsy and wacky. So our event was probably a lot different than something you would do with family, but maybe it will give you (or someone else) some ideas.

    We threw a potluck brunch at our house for about 16 of our friends with the theme of ”Fairy Blessings”. Ahead of time, each guest was asked to come up with a fairy blessing, as in ”If you were my child’s fairy godparent, what gift would you bestow to her?” We also asked that each guest bring a gift that represents an important thing from their own childhood, such as a copy of their favorite childhood book, stuffed animal, game, etc. (I didn’t have a traditional baby shower so I thought it was okay to ask for this kind of gift). Some of our relatives who were not able to attend sent gifts like this ahead of time. We also put on the invitation ”fairy godparent attire encouraged but not required” and almost everyone showed up in unique, wild costumes (wiseman, magician, angel, butterfly, eagle, and ”fairy gothmother”, to name just a few), which instantly made the event very fun and kooky.

    For the ceremony itself, we had everyone sit in a circle around a table set with candles and candleholders I had made of clay, carved with my daughter’s name and birthdate. One of our close friends (who also performed our wedding), led the ceremony by lighting a candle, and reading ”On Children” from Gibran. We then had each guest bestow their blessing, give their gift, and light a candle. My husband and I presented the gifts that relatives had sent along. This was all very informal, fun and uplifting.

    Then we had a short naming cermony, where my husband and I talked about why we chose her name and the significance it has to us. The officiator then gave a short ceremonial speech to formally bestow her name and kissed her on the forehead to end the ceremony. We finished with cake and cocktails. Everyone got to take a candleholder home with them. For us it was the perfect way to welcome my daughter into the world surrounded by loving friends and protectors.

  • TychaBrahe

    Whether anyone likes it or not, humans are a ritualistic creature, seeing meaning in symbols. It is part of our ability to read (abstract symbols to meaning) and do math beyond walking out to the field and counting the sheep. It’s the reason why literature works. I understand that for most of us, what we understand as ritual is tied up with religion, but IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE. To deny ourselves ritual for fear of becoming or appearing religious is to make everything about our lives mundane.

    For a while I tried to be a pagan, and pagans are GREAT at inventing ritual, so here is what I would do.

    I would put a mat on a table in the center of a room so that everyone could stand around it. I would bring in the baby wrapped in a dark colored blanket pulled up to cover her head. I would put the baby on the mat, and unwrap her, so that the confining darkness in which her body was made is replaced by light and space. I would have the parents come up together and place a hand on the baby and recite something like a cross between a wedding vow and an introduction. “Welcome to the world . I am your (mother/father). It is my job to help you grow into a happy and healthy adult. It is my job to encourage you and support you so that you develop your innate potential. It is also my job to correct you, and at times you will be angry with me for it. There will also be times when I am angry with you. I promise, though, to always love you, even when you make me angry.”

    Then the grandparents come up and place their hands on the baby. “, these are your grandparents. Humans are born frail and helpless, because there is so much we must learn that cannot be instinct. In our culture, wisdom is passed from generation to generation. Our elders are fonts of wisdom.” Then the grandparents would say, “, we promise to love you always, and to support your parents in their job to raise you.”

    There could be additional paragraphs for the siblings, for those special friends who are chosen as the guardians should something happen to the parents, and for the rest of those gathered, who should also promise to support the child and the parents as they raise her.

    It could be quite beautiful and deeply meaningful without invoking any sort of spiritualism or religion.

  • Daniel

    My daughter has a “There-is-no-god Father”. His job is that in the event that something happens to us, he is to make sure our daughter knows that her parents were atheists and encourage her to explore the world rationally.

    Our will dictates who would get custody of our daughter and those people know the There-is-no-god Father and that he should be allowed to visit.

  • Nordog

    “The large majority of said relatives are not even practicing Catholics so far as I can tell. But for some reason they seem hung up on this whole baptism thing. I don’t understand it myself.”

    I think it might be because baptism is in a way the most fundemental sacrament/ritual. As the “cultural Catholics” drift further away from their faith, baptism is the last to go, so to speak.

    Basically, for people like these, often is the case that baptism is more about culture than theology.

  • Oops, sorry, your name is Eric, not Andrew! I forgot to mention that I found the description of the ceremony here, and there are more ideas there that might appeal to you.

  • Eric Lawrence

    Anna Says:

    Phosphoro, the original letter referred to baptism several times, and baptism is a Christian ritual. It was stated that the grandparents are upset because the child has not gone through this ritual. I was just pointing out that having a similar ceremony while leaving out religion might upset them. Or it might not; I don’t know. But I didn’t say anything about birth rituals in general. The letter sounded like they are looking for something very similar to baptism, which is why I brought up the mimicry aspect.

    Anna, please read my comments above yours. I realize that I may have been unclear in my original letter.

  • Eric Lawrence

    Wow! Thank you TychaBrahe!! I think we will try to incorporate something involving those close to the baby extending out to her and reciting “vows” so to speak. Very nice!

  • Eric, yes, sorry. I had only briefly skimmed through the comments when I wrote my original post. I still think it’s worth considering that the reaction of the grandparents might be negative, but of course you know them much better than I do! If most of the family is simply attached to the cultural idea of baptism (and most of the Catholics in my family are the same, not very religious but baptized their kids) then they might be perfectly fine with a secular ceremony. It may be that they just want some formalized ritual to celebrate the baby’s arrival.

  • Eric Lawrence

    Thank you Anna! I’m sure the description will be very helpful in planning our own! I didn’t mean to make it seem like I wanted something practically identical to baptism. If the relatives are still concerned with metaphysics and are actually offended by the, what we’ll call “non-baptism” for now, then I’m afraid that will be their dilemma. It’s not my primary concern. They will asked to be involved in a (hopefully) wonderful ceremony regarding my daughter. That is all I can offer them.

  • I forgot to say…CONGRATULATIONS, ERIC!!

  • Eric,

    The Catholic members of my family are not all that devout either, and they insisted that I baptized my son too. My mother even pressured me for months to have my son circumcised. Whatever for?! I may never know why she thinks the issue was urgent.

    In regards to the baptism, I made the mistake of blandly yessing them a lot but not actually taking the steps toward having a baptism… until I couldn’t take the pressure anymore and put my foot down hard. No baptism. No CCD. No church attendance. Period.

    Now he’s 2 years old and it’s been a long time since my relatives have mentioned it. In time, they get used to the idea. And now I don’t have to go through the same battle all over again for First Communion.

    My second word of advice to you is, in addition to cheesecake, don’t let them control the pseudo-baptism ceremony too much, or else you will have to fight the battle again next time.

  • I wouldn’t do it at all if it were me. To anyone griping about this or any other religious ceremony, the only answer I’d have for them is that I am the parent of this child and that is the end of the conversation.

    To demand that a family member subject their child to any sort of ceremony the parent doesn’t want to participate in is an appalling display of disrespect.

  • El

    I live in France, and this kind of thing is very common, as teh country is quite secular. the word “Marraine” (translated by “Godmother”) or “Parrain” (translated as “Godfather”) DO NOT contain or refer to religious words or concepts. They’re just persons who are there to provide moral guidance to the children, and perhaps take care of them when the parents can’t (you can never get too many of those). They don’t have much work to do, usually, mind you, but it’s an honor to be chosen as one. Of course, there’s the whole baptism and religious ceremony, for those who believe in that… But a “Parrain civil” or “Marraine civile” (a “Non-religious or civic godmother/father”, except the word “god never appears… very poor translation, I know) is quite common in many circles.
    There’s usually no ceremony, just a friendly dinner among friends. But, hey, this is France… There’s a dinner for every occasion.

  • Nordog


    I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Issues like this are why I think it unwise (at best) for atheists and people serious about a given faith to marry.

    It’s one thing to have one’s extended family torn over these disagreements, sometimes that’s just unavoidable.

    It’s quite another to have parents torn apart in this manner.

    Of course atheist/theist couples can and do have successful relationships (or at least I would be surprised if there weren’t such couples). It just seems entering into such a relationship is asking for trouble.

  • I found a nice sample ceremony here, and the rituals seem like something that would work:

    – Having each person present state a personal special wish for the baby.

    – Having each person write a personal special wish for the baby on a card that then is hung on a potted tree or tree outside.

    – The immediate family holds hands in a circle around the baby while the celebrant says this poem (this is nice if there are other children or grandparents that are especially close to the family):

    A family is a circle of strength and love.

    With every birth and every union, the circle grows.

    Every joy shared adds more love.

    Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.

    – Celebrant says, “As a symbol of (his/her) life and the hope for a bright and happy future, I invite you (addressing parents) to light this candle. A light representing your wish for a life full of everlasting love.” Then parent/s light candle”.

    – Parent/s planting a tree or other plant.

    If I were going to invent a ceremony, I’d go with something outdoors, maybe planting and decorating a tree, writing wishes and hanging them on a tree, or collecting papers with wishes written on them and using the papers in some meaningful way. Lighting candles is always nice, too.

    I also found some descriptions of Pagan ceremonies that sound like they could work with a little tweaking:

    My sister had her naming ceremony for her daughter a few weeks back. I don’t know too much about it (the actual ceremony was only with the parents, godparents and the child), but we did some research together in advance – and it seems there are so many possibilities to choose from… One mother recommended giving each guest a stone to which they should whisper a good wish or blessing for the child, and these pebbles/stones are collected in a decorated flowerpot and left on the family altar.

    My sister had everybody write a wish for her daughter on a piece of cloth, and these were tied losely to the branches of a tree that had been planted in honor of her daughter’s birth. After the ritual, when everybody was there to celebrate, we went outside together and put the wishes on the tree. I thought that was a nice idea, and it wasn’t too strange for all the Non-Pagans.

    Not necessarily for Eric, but if anyone has relatives who are hung up on the word “christening” but aren’t really religious, you could always have a “Fairy Christening.” Everyone’s pretty familiar with Sleeping Beauty, so you could do the whole wishes ritual and designate fairy godmothers and fairy godfathers. It could be whimsical and cute without invoking anything specifically religious.

  • Dan W

    I wouldn’t have such a ceremony, because it would seem too similar to a silly religious ceremony (like baptisms). Also because it seems pointless to have a ceremony like the one described just because the baby’s grandparents have a problem with the lack of a baptism. The parents are raising the kid, not the grandparents, so if they don’t like the fact that the baby wasn’t baptised, too damn bad.

  • plublesnork

    A friend had a secular ceremony. I’m not sure what they called the ceremony, but instead of Godparents, they had “rational parents”, and the rational parents, instead of giving the gift of a bible, gave the gift of “The God Delusion”.

    I think it’s worth noting that this was in Australia where religion isn’t such a big thing, and that playful mockery likely didn’t offend anyone in attendance.

    In the US, I can see how the above would quite likely appear as atheism trying to be a religion.

    I think the gift of a book is a good idea, though, especially if you can get everyone in attendance to write a little message on the blank pages inside the front and back covers.

  • Eric Lawrence

    Hahaha. Yes, I think giving “The God Delusion” would be a little overwhelming. I wouldn’t want anyone to confuse this as being an atheist ceremony (there’s no such thing as an atheist ceremony, not to be confused with “atheist can’t participate in or organize non-religious ceremonies”). I think we maybe we would like to include the giving of books with special notes written on the inside cover, though. Thanks for the thought!

    Also, thanks again to everyone! I’m sure this post will fade into the background soon. I never expected it to generate so much attention. My fiance and I have gone over all the comments. While some of them were unhelpful, and at least one of them was slightly offensive (this goes to the commenter who was made to think “[I] have issues”… I’m sitting right here you know!), many of them were very, very helpful. We will soon begin planning the ceremony, asking people to prepare speeches, etc. I will write in to Hemant regarding the outcome. Thanks to all of you!

  • Reality Chic

    I think that a “welcome to the world” ceremony is a wonderful idea.

  • Gabriel

    I don’t like the sound of the “purity” bit. It just sounds creepy and has unpleasant religious connotations. Also, the idea of a ceremony similar to a baptism would a)be quite silly, given that most non-believers want to get away from religious imagery and b)just antagonise the grandparents further if they take it as mockery, which, knowing fundies, is likely.

    Having some kind of get-together where you announce the child’s guardians to the grandparents, having a look through baby pictures and of course, celebrating a milestone (e.g. second birthday), however, sounds good. Kids hate sitting through speeches anyway. 😉

  • Kate

    FYI, there is another sample baby naming ceremony at http://ethicalstl.org/eve_babynamingssample.php

  • TW157ER

    I came upon this blog as a result of having the exact same discussion with my wife about our now month old baby girl. There really is something in considering something like this. I reject religion as a whole, but I also recognize the value of social bonding that accompanies these sorts of events, which are, in my opinion, the reason that these rituals exist in the first place. For example, I don’t celebrate christmas, but I still have a tree, and still enjoy bonding with my family over a nice roast dinner. Pagans celebrated these events way before christianity adopted them. Why should atheists deny themselves the bonding rituals that help hold society together just because they have been hijacked by religion?

    I would very much like it if we could help one another to resolve this issue, as I truly believe that many of our traditions, especially those that promote social bonding, serve a crucial purpose within society. Let the fundamentalists think whatever they like, we should be a community with our own traditions and bonding ceremonies.

  • Richard Wade

    Welcome, and I like what you say about reclaiming the bonding ceremonies and not letting them all go just because they were co-opted by a cult.

    I’ve heard similar ideas before, but someting about just the way you said it really made it clear for me. It’s actually going to make my December have more “hello” and less “humbug.”

    I just learned through a good friend that the Navajo have a big family celebration and ceremony as soon as a baby first laughs. They all gather and pass things around that the baby has touched. The idea is that the baby is giving them gifts.

    With your month-old daughter, I hope you and your wife find two things: the kinds of ceremonies that enrich your lives, and of course, enough sleep.

    Stick around.

  • Robert Larsen


    I totally identify with you. I am having my first child in about a month and my girlfriends side of the family baptize their children. Not for religion but for tradition.
    I have convinced my girlfriend that we should not do this, however we would like to introduce the child to the family, some of which we rarely see, so we will also have some kind of gathering…”name giving day” or something.

    But what to put into such a day ? I don’t know (lots of food for sure). Just wanted to tell you that you are not alone.

  • Yiren

    I am a christian and you know what? I thought that these were some cool ideas. This has actually been very helpful for an assignment of mine, because I know that some people prefer non-religious events to others so I decided to contrast this with a normal baptism.

    Thanks all for your help. 🙂

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