An atheist godfather?

My cousin is an Episcopalian, which he describes as “the American version of Anglicanism, which is the British version of Catholicism.” He has a beautiful new baby son, who will be baptized in just over a month. And he’s asked me to be my new cousin’s godfather.

Being raised a protestant, I really had no idea what this meant. The whole godfather/godmother thing was totally foreign to me. So I decided I’d ask around at work. I’m surrounded by Catholics here in New York, something else that was foreign while I was growing up in the Midwest.

Apparently, to be a godfather means several things:

  1. That you’re expected to give the biggest gifts at birthday parties, graduation, etc.,
  2. That you’ll take responsibility for being a parent for the child if anything happens to his real parents, and
  3. That you’ll help with the spiritual upbringing of the child.

Oh, dear.

You see, my cousin asked me over the phone, and I pretty much said yes right away without bothering to find out what it meant. And the vast majority of my family – namely, anyone who isn’t my parents or doesn’t look too closely at my Facebook profile – doesn’t know I’m an atheist.

So… what do I do now? How do I let my cousin down easy? I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable helping to raise his son as an Episcopalian, but still – the fact that he’d consider me for such a job tells me that there’s something about me that he respects, and I want to show him that I’m grateful that he’d consider me for such a role. Not to mention that telling him I’m an atheist would likely mean that I’d be outed to that entire half of my family… which is something I’m probably due for at this point.

Part of being named as a godfather also means that I’d have to attend the kid’s baptism, which is (in my mind) inextricably tied with the beginning of an indoctrination into Christian dogma… sigh.

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