On The Radar

Children need anti-Godparents

By Steven Wells
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 5, 2008

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Illustration by Hawk Krall

One of the saddest things about being a grownup is no longer being able to believe in Santa Claus and tooth fairies and the omnipotence and unfailing wisdom of your parents, and all the other comforting myths that make childhood so cozy.

But I don't miss God. Not one bit. In fact, when I see awe-stricken rural types on TV giving thanks to God for "miraculously" saving a little girl during a hurricane (relegating God, in the words of the Guardian's Simon Hoggart, to the status of "the fourth emergency service, stepping in to mitigate misfortunes which for some reason he couldn't prevent"), I'm just grateful I'm not that dumb.

But I do miss the good stuff. The beautiful hymns and the jaunty carols and the devastating heavy metal blank verse of the King James Bible. And the inimitable sound and feel of an ancient church.

To stand outside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in the 21st century and to stare upward at the concrete cacophony of saints, sinners, angels, demons, gargoyles and pious monarchs is to be truly awestruck. For medieval peasants it must've been like being shouted at by God: "Yes, here I am, you filthy little ditch-digger. Now cough up some cash before I crush you with my galaxy-sized God-thumb."

I recently attended a christening in a mock-Victorian Catholic church in Philly, and even though I squirmed as otherwise sane and intelligent people all around me asked the Virgin Mary and the saints to "pray for us," I nonetheless felt an affection for the ancient naming ritual (which easily predates Christianity).

Take godparents, for instance--nonrelatives who take an oath to protect the child from the "glamour of evil" (presumably meaning Marilyn Manson) and Satan and all his works.

But--Satan being no more real than Santa--it strikes me that what every child really needs is an anti-Godparent. Someone who'll take the child aside and say: "Look, you should know that all this God stuff is just a silly fairy tale. Nobody really believes it, apart from mad people. Not even mummy and daddy. Not even the pope. They just pretend to. Why? Oh, lots of reasons. A very wise man named Karl Marx (who looked a bit like Santa) called religion 'the heart of a heartless world.' It's a bit like a baby's security blanket or thumb-sucking, or a tatty-old teddy bear that you love and you talk to even though you know it's just make-believe. But real grownups don't really need it. And neither do you."

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man, I put away childish things," as it says in the Bible (I Corinthians 13:11).

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