One of my fondest memories of childhood is attending Christmas midnight mass at my family’s Catholic church. My cousins and I would bask in the glittering pageantry, well aware that as soon as we got home, all the presents beneath the tree would be vanquished under our attacking hands.
I’m about to become a father. Naturally, I should look forward to taking my own son to midnight mass.
Well, I’m not. Because he will not be raised Catholic. In fact, he will not be raised with any religion at all.
Statistically, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Religion is in steep decline in the United States, and more people around the world are calling themselves atheists. In addition, “Latinos have become increasingly less religious with newer generations.”
I can vouch for this. There is a clear line from my abuela’s undying faith in the Catholic Church to my mother’s suspicion of the institution to my total rejection of it.
Of course, Latino culture is still strongly linked with religion — especially Catholicism. Dismissing religion is scandalous, even self-loathing, in some Latino families.
For example, some of my extended relatives consider my marriage to my wife invalid because we didn’t get hitched in a Catholic church. (Sorry, but the Methodist one was convenient). So I can just imagine how well the decision to not baptize our son will go over.
I suppose I should be more conflicted about this. After all, I am arguably rejecting part of his — and my — heritage.
And isn’t it wrong to force my apathy for religion on an unsuspecting infant? Well, I notice that people who raise their kids in their familial religion — be it Catholicism or Judaism or Islam — have no qualms at all about exposing their children to their opinions.
I feel a similar certitude about our decision. My wife and I see few benefits to indoctrinating him in the faith. We don’t believe there is an intrinsic value to the sacraments and ceremonies. And as for the practical aspects — the idea that kids raised with religion grow into moral and ethical adults — well, that is a nice idea.
However, some studies imply that religious people are actually less compassionate and more racist than nonbelievers. Of course prisons are full of thugs who claim a personal relationship with God. And in the Middle East… well, do any of us honestly believe it would be worse if everyone in that area just renounced religion altogether?
The point is that the link between religion and morality is shaky at best. So there is no objective reason to tell our son that a certain ritual or specific prayer will make him a better person.
Naturally, if he comes to that decision later in his life, I will respect it.
Until then, I guess he will be the cutest little secular humanist in town.