What should you do if a friend or relative who’s just had a baby asks you to be the godfather? Or godmother (presumably of the non-“fairy” variety)? As an atheist, is it appropriate to say yes? As a friend or family member, is it appropriate to say no?
I think if you’re asked in front of a group, you should do the same as if you’re proposed to in front of a group – -say yes, no matter what (especially if there’s a JumboTron involved). It’s just ridiculously humiliating to turn someone down in public. If you really don’t want to do it, you can tell them later in private (or decide to “have second thoughts” at a later time).
But before you decide whether to accept, you should be aware of what being a godparent means, both short- and long-term. Traditionally, it means you’re responsible for the child’s spiritual upbringing (although obviously the parents bear primary responsibility).
And generally it means you’re expected to be present at the baptism or christening (and yes, that means you get to buy a gift — whoopee!), and it’s even slightly possible that you’ll be asked to participate, maybe just by saying “yes” or “I do” when asked if you’ll look after the child’s spiritual safety (in which case treat it just as you would if it’s a wedding — either play along, or don’t agree to participate in the first case). Or you might even be asked to “say a few words” at the ceremony or whatever lunch or dinner or picnic they have later — if that happens, you can play it safe by talking about how wonderful the parents are and how happy they must be with their new bundle of joy and all that sort of stuff.
Often, being named as godparent implies that you’ll be the one to take the kids in and raise them if, (relevant deity) forbid, something should happen to the parents. However, this is not a legal commitment, just an informal understanding, and it’s often not even that. Sometimes, naming you a godparent is just little “shout-out” gesture of friendship or closeness, like making you a maid of honor or a groomsman or an usher at a wedding.
Officially, it’s just a formal commitment to being the spiritual advisor/mentor/teacher/whatever. And of course, like many formalities, it’s not really binding either, any more than you’re actually required to “speak now or forever hold your peace” when you actually can think of a reason or two or 47 why those two people in the black tux and white dress really shouldn’t try to spend the rest of their lives together (but it sure does make for a suspenseful moment or two at the ceremony, doesn’t it?).
NOTE: Catholics say you can’t be godparent (or “sponsor” either) if you’re not Catholic, but you can be a “witness” (here are some details).
And here’s a nifty blog with some resources for those facing godparenthood from someone who’s been put in the position a few times (apparently a few too many for his liking): The Grumpy Godfather.
(Baptism cartoon via SwensonFunnies)