Atheist baby naming ceremony

As an anthropologists, I have a LOT of thoughts about this. I’d love to know your thoughts.

(Sorry the embedding is so obnoxious. There was no obvious way to remove the ads.)

Hat tip: This site

Comments

  1. #1 Barbara Carlile
    August 9, 2009

    As a person and a mother, I find this rather sad. I believe that all of us need someone or something greater than ourselves to believe in. As a scientist there is proof of evolution that is not spoken of in the Bible, yet if there is no God, how did all of this happen? How do we account for all of the good in the world? My Godmother and the God Parents of my children have given all of us a great education. Something that is not in the textbooks.

  2. #2 The Science Pundit
    August 9, 2009

    You should be able to pull ad-free embed code from here:

  3. #3 Casz
    August 9, 2009

    Great idea for parents that want to have a celebration to welcome their children and formally acknowledge that family is more that who you are born with. Coining new terms can be hit or miss but guide parents seems pretty good.

  4. #4 Dinosaur Teacher
    August 9, 2009

    Richard Dawkins covers pretty well in the God Delusion how altruism is an evolved adaptation we share with chimpanzees, and our sentience allows us to take it to wonderful ethical heights. Not every act of kindness needs a God as an explanation.

  5. #5 The Science Pundit
    August 9, 2009

    “This site” is the correct label for that.

    I have mixed feelings about ceremonies like that. On the one hand, ceremonies can be fun. They’re also a great excuse to get together with the important people in your life who you don’t see that often. On the other hand, I always (even as a kid–especially as a kid) hated those ceremonies. The “fun” I was talking about a few sentences ago refers mostly to the post-ceremony (or pre-ceremony) informal gathering and celebration. In fact, the actual ceremony’s greatest contribution to the gathering is usually semi-embarrassing stories that everyone can laugh about afterwards.

    So I guess I have to say “Go forward!” with the understanding that I (personally) will be just as bored there as I would at any religious wedding/funeral/baptism/etc.

  6. #6 The Science Pundit
    August 9, 2009

    Not every act of kindness needs a God as an explanation.

    Not every any act of kindness needs a gØd as an explanation.

    There, fixed! ;-)

  7. #7 Lou FCD
    August 9, 2009

    eh, I’m always a little queasy anymore about mock-ups of the faith-heads’ voodoo rituals. Even marriages anymore, though I’ve done it twice and performed three secular marriages myself. (pre-quease, if you will)

    Wedding receptions, on the other hand, I’m pretty OK with. :)

  8. #8 Rich Wilson
    August 10, 2009

    Like a funeral is not for the dead, this isn’t for the kid.

    We have all kinds of ceremonies, from birthdays to the 4th of July. What’s wrong with this one? In fact, I’d bet most atheists ‘celebrate’ Christmas.

  9. #9 foolfodder
    August 10, 2009

    I’ve felt for a long time that ceremonies like this are natural even without religion. I fact, I feel like religion has hijacked these things for its own purposes.

  10. #10 MadScientist
    August 10, 2009

    I was never keen on rituals; couldn’t care less about my birthday or christmas. I really wouldn’t know what the deal would be with a naming ceremony; don’t people think of names beforehand these days and put a name on the birth certificate? I’m all for a party though; drop by and see the new bebe. :)

  11. #11 oldcola
    August 10, 2009

    Greg,
    You probably know about that, but for your reader’s information: in France is available since 1794 (French Revolution period) a civil/republican baptism/ceremony intended to introduce the child to republican values and attach her/him godparents (the french term for godparents indicates rather substitutes for the parents, just in case they will come to disappear).

    There is no implementation by law, not all mayors allow it, and it’s not very common nowadays, but I already assisted at two such ceremonies and most importantly the fiestas that followed, which were presented as an opportunity for four families (mother, father, marraine, parrain) to meet and share.

    Some info, in french, here.

  12. #12 Jason Thibeault
    August 10, 2009

    I do agree that ceremonies and rituals reinforce community bonds, and while it would be nice to do away with them entirely if only for the cost factor (hey, I’m cheap, what can I say), it is also nice to wrest control away from this faux monopoly that the religious seem to think they have on it. We’ve had ceremonies as long as we’ve been human, I’d wager. And I mean, look at every ceremony Christianity has co-opted, from Festivus down to the civil union stuff. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so let’s co-opt them right back.

  13. #13 Jason Thibeault
    August 10, 2009

    Oh, I posted the Youtube video at my place, and pointed everyone here for comments for your anthropological edification. I have a few of my own real-life friends who might be interested in talking about this.

  14. #14 Enoch
    August 10, 2009

    I can not explain why but it looks and feels creepy to me.

  15. #15 mk
    August 10, 2009

    Ewww!

  16. #16 DuWayne
    August 10, 2009

    Ritual and ceremony is a very natural aspect of being human. There are innumerable secular rituals that virtually everyone in western culture engage in, that have nothing to do with faith or religion and many rituals that while the religious would try to lay claim, can also be secular – such as marriage. I don’t see this as being a imitation of people of faith, I see it as allowing people who are not religious to enjoy formal affirmations of a variety of events in life.

    I think that this one is an especially important one. Especially for the people who are going to be a part of a child’s life. People making a public and heartfelt commitment to take part in a child’s life as a mentor, friend, has little to do with the child’s enjoyment of the experience – it is important for the people who are a part of that child’s life. Much like a funeral isn’t for the person who just kicked it, it’s for the people who love and/or respected that person.

    Formal and public/semi-public recognition of our movements through the various stages of life are important. Keeping in mind, that I am one who absolutely dreads such formal recognition and will only attend such events, when the someone very important to me is being recognized. It’s even harder to get me to actually take part. I hate having to deal with that sort of thing, because I am not a terribly social person. But I think that very tendency of mine, makes it easy for me to recognize the importance of such ceremonies and rituals. Because when it is something I feel compelled to attend, no matter how uncomfortable I am with the crowds, I absolutely love being a part of the recognition of an important step in the life of someone I love.

    My most recent being the graduation of a “little” girl I helped teach to read and who was terribly excited when she was able to read to my eldest, from middle school, into high school. Before that, it was the very religious funeral of someone for whom I have an unwavering and unfathomable respect for. Enough that I sang and sang a very religious song for the people who felt much like I did about him, because he and many of them loved it when I sang in church and for a time led worship. And honestly, I wasn’t even uncomfortable about it, because it wasn’t about me, it was about the loved ones of someone I respected and cared about.

    And that is the crux of it. A lot of these rituals and ceremonies are boring as hell. I am absolutely dreading graduation – were it just me, I would be happy to get my piece of paper in the mail. But I have two parents who are very excited that I will be going through this series of graduations – parents who have supported me every step of the way thus far and who will continue to. And I have several friends who are almost as excited as my folks, who are also supporting me. Wearing fucking gowns and walking up there to get my diploma is not for me, it’s for them. It’s my expression of gratitude for all of the love and support they are giving me, that I might have a decent future.

    These ceremonies aren’t about mimicking the religious, they are about saying “fuck you, a lack of magical thinking does not mean we cannot have these public recognitions of the various stages of our lives.”

  17. #17 Stephanie Z
    August 10, 2009

    Well, aside from the fact that someone with such a creepy, slippery voice should never try to sell me something, the one thing that really bugged me about this was the swearing-in of the guide parents. Their responsibilities are not to the community. Their responsibilities are to the child. Therefore, any promises they made should have been made to the child, not the community. The community is there to witness those promises, yes, but having them (or even the parents, hard to tell in the video) be the recipients of the oaths made it feel more cult-like than it should have.

    I get the same feeling whenever I go to a wedding in which the couple is lectured on their expected contribution to society. They have responsibilities in the matter, yes, but they had them before as well, and how they choose to meet them as a couple is a matter for them to work out.

    Oh, and where was the laughter?

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2009

    Let us not overstate, however, the degree to which what we think of as ritual is “natural human.” We find rituals in “all cultures” and so on and so fort, but “all cultures” are (mostly) agricultural, pastoral, or industrial societies. Are we sure that “all cultures” = forager societies?

    There is an important characteristic of many rituals, or more exactly, off ritual in many societies, that is a) almost ubiquitous, b) is highly problematic and c) does not occur in a large way, as far as I know, in forager societies. This characteristic is thus suspect and is what makes me squeamish.

    This characteristic is deep traditional conservatism. This is not found in foraging groups to any large degree as far as I am aware, but is found clearly, and often in exaggerated form, in many other societies. There are many negatives associated with this, and that is what worries me.

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    August 10, 2009

    Greg, I think that’s a big part of why the misplaced oaths bother me.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2009

    Stephanie: I agree about the seeming inappropriateness of the focus.

    There is an added element here that is a bit at odds with modern society. I have been the equivilant of “god parent” twice. Not a ceremony or official thing or anyting. In once case, my two BFF’s had a kid, but dad was in the field for months, so I was substitute second parent, spending hours each week taking care of the babyh. In the other case, I did not do as much direct child care but I was very involved, and in fact, my daughter received the same attention from my friend.

    Today, many many years later, I could not tell you the email of any of those people … we’ve totally lost touch. Why? Well, the divorce dance for one thing, and time, and everybody moving to vastly different parts of the country.

    What I am getting at is that this ceremony, a new replicate of an older ceremony, carries with it your typical pastoral-agricultural traditional slant to the extent that it can not really have meaning … or do anything over the long term but generate guilt and bad feelings … in either a foraging society or a modern Western society. In both sorts of societies, we humans are busy chasing scarce resources (game, roots, jobs) across a vast landscape, and thus must have fairly dynamic relationships to have any relationships at all.

    The ceremony, in short, fetishizes an unreachable goal, causing that goal to be a conflict rather than a benefit.

    That is not the only thing wrong with it, but I think that is key.

  21. #21 Stephanie Z
    August 10, 2009

    I think some of that depends on what promises are made and how much those promises are concentrated in just one or two people. It also may be less inappropriate in some parts of the country (like the one you’re living in) in which people really just don’t move away that often and frequently move back when they do go. But yes, unless you think pretty hard about it, it’s going to be easy to mess it up.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2009

    Well, the part of the country you are in has doubled or tripled its population through immigration from other parts of the world (mostly elsewhere in the US) in how long? How many of your closest friends come from other states? So, in theory, your ‘god/nongod’ father is still in town (but you did just travel two thousand miles to a wedding, IIRC) … but maybe that ancient part of your family is swamped out a bit.

    Also, any second now the high tech medical industry (or whatever our industry is here in MN) could collapse and, like living in the midsts of the auto industry of Michigan, the population goes unstable in a matter of months.

    Next thing you know you’ve got Minnesotans dusting off the old wagon trains for yet another migration.

    But yes, the main thing here is that a specific binary relationship is being established for long term, and one of the parties in each of the binary relationships is non-sentient and not given a choice.

  23. #23 Gwenny
    August 10, 2009

    @Rich Wilson,

    I suppose MOST atheists do celebrate something around the Winter Solstice. I can tell you that my family does not do anything other than go out for Chinese on Xmas day. We also do not observe birthdays. We don’t even buy discount candy after Easter anymore. Mostly for us, holidays=reason to stay hiding at home and play WoW. The only celebration I might consider taking part in in the future is that I may have a 14th Moon celebration to commemorate an end to being fertile . . .THANK GOODNESS!

    It is amazingly difficult to reach this place. Society really tries to make you be a part of its marketing insanity.

  24. #24 Jason Thibeault
    August 10, 2009

    But yes, the main thing here is that a specific binary relationship is being established for long term, and one of the parties in each of the binary relationships is non-sentient and not given a choice.

    And that’s my biggest problem with pretty well every ritual involving babies, including and especially the one with the Cruellest Cut. The kid has no input and no choice.

    I noticed both little girls looked very lost in this video, and confused when Dawkins glanced down and smiled at her while exiting the stage, but didn’t pick her up like she was expecting. It’s obvious this is for the parents.

    Also, everything about the ceremony in this video reminded me of some pretty woo-ish stuff, between the “stardust” and “nature” references and the little white tree things everyone’s expected to wave around, and much of it seems specifically tailored to be an anti-Christening. The fact is, though, that our society puts so much stock into these rituals, and some people really feel the traditions are necessary (in that conservative way), that it is good for people who do want such rituals to know that they have their own options. I don’t know that these ad-hoc anti-Christenings are anything short of what others have said here — creepy.

  25. #25 James Sweet
    August 10, 2009

    As a person and a mother, I find this rather sad. …if there is no God, how did all of this happen? How do we account for all of the good in the world?

    As a person and a father, I find your statements sad.

    First, the “as a person” implies I am not a person because I disagree with you, and the “as a mother” implies I can’t be a good parent because I disagree with you. That’s sad.

    Secondly, “how did all of this happen?” is a good question, but then “how did God happen?” is an even more difficult question to answer. So this is not very critical thinking. That’s sad.

    Thirdly, the fact that you think that there could only be “good in this world” because some paternalistic sky fairy decided we would all burn in hell forever if we weren’t extra nice to him… well, let me just say I apparently have a more positive view of humanity than you do. That’s sad.

    Really, I wouldn’t have said anything except for the “as a mother” part. That was incredibly offensive. You just insulted my wife by indirectly implying she’s not a good mother because she doesn’t share your pathetic delusions. How dare you.

  26. #26 Dorid
    August 10, 2009

    I think that rituals and ceremonies are part of our social “glue” if you will, and that makes them a necessary part of life, whether we like or approve of specific ceremonies or not. I also think that whether a ritual or ceremony is “good” depends on it’s usefulness in the community which practices it. I think that a lot of the “creepy” factor here is in that it seems too close to rituals we view as “religious” … either too similar or to corrupt a version.

    The problem is that I don’t think that all ritual or ceremony is founded in religion… nor would I say that there’s conclusive proof that in the past ritual marked religious beliefs. Yet the two have become so intertwined now that we can’t see one without the other.

  27. #27 Blake Stacey
    August 10, 2009

    We don’t even buy discount candy after Easter anymore.

    Somehow, I missed both day-after-Valentine’s and day-after-Easter this year. I took a tour of a chocolate factory to make up for it. Damn the family history of diabetes, full speed ahead!

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    August 11, 2009

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