Do a ritual I don't believe in, or don't do it and miss potential rewards?

Okay, no one here will probably care about this, but in the off-chance that someone might have something intelligent, insightful, and helpful to offer, I put this before you.

There is a certain ritual that my mother would like me to perform. Granted that it belongs to a religion I no longer believe in, but my mother (and others in my family) would be highly touched and awed and astonished and proud and well pleased if I performed this ritual.

Performing this ritual would not take more than half an hour of my day, but the rewards thereof would be far greater, especially if other relatives find out. My standing amongst our relatives (and perhaps even my family’s standing therein) would rise and the respect that others would have for us would increase.

So I am torn: do I do it, even though I wouldn’t believe in what I would be doing, and reap the awards, or do I not do it and thereby disappoint my dear mother and miss the rewards (quite mundane and this-worldly) of doing it?


If the ritual isn’t actually against your beliefs, and if it wouldn’t put you out to any great degree, I’d say do it if it makes your mother happy. Regardless of any other rewards you might reap, half an hour a day to please your mom isn’t a bad deal.

On the other hand, if doing the ritual would make you feel like a fraud or a hypocrite, or if you’ll end up resenting your family because you feel they pressured you into it, don’t do it. You’ll probably just end up making everyone more unhappy when the truth comes out than you would have by not starting in the first place.

When a child says they want to do something dangerous, wrong, or simply unusual, a parent will usually ask “why are you doing this?”

The child responds “so the other kids will like me.”

The parent then answers “if that’s how they decide whether or not they like you, then they’re not really your friends, are they?”
Whether or not you join this ritual is up to you, and family relationships are more complicated than friends, but you should consider how valuable respect and high opinions are from people who would base their judgement of you on this.

Are we talking half an hour a day, every day, for the rest of you life?


Go for it. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and it’ll make your mom happy. That’s reason enough to do it right there.

Sometimes I go to funerals and the like here where it’s the practice for people to bow to the dead, light jossticks, etc. I won’t do it because I believe ancestor worship is wrong. No one seems to mind. I don’t make a fuss and stand respectfully before the casket.

If you don’t believe in it, I wouldn’t do it. It’s a matter of conscience.

Well, if you have the time AND you have the spell components. . .

Seriously, performing some rituals can provide a benefit even if belief is absent. They can give valuable feelings of connection, acceptance, etc. I’d hesitate if your belief is required by the other participants, though. Some groups require serious belief to play while others are more open.

A little more specific information would help.

I’m a practising Catholic. I’m also a conservative Republican. There are things I would do and things I would not do, as a result. Sometimes, there’s some hairsplitting involved.

Would I attend a Hindu service for an Indian friend who’d died? Sure. Would I politely listen to Hindu prayers? Sure. Would I join in those prayers? No way. There are lines I have to draw.

To the OP… more information would be nice. But if you don’t want to share more, well, just decide how important your principles are, and how serious a breach it would be to make your family happy in this instance. If it’s a small thing you’d only have to do once, I’d say cave in! If it’s a big thing, one that would require a lot of commitment and/or a public proclamation of things youy don’t believe in, stand firm and say no.

I’d say do it, just because I have been in a similar situation like you are in right now, and the happiness my family felt got reciprocated back to me. They knew I was not particularly religious and so the whole thing was totally optional whether I wanted to do it or not.

Some people’s priorities might be different. For me I didn’t think it was really comprimising my beliefs or anything. But it meant a lot to my family, and thus it felt special for me. I know that nobody wants to be badgered into doing something, so if you are hesitant because of that I can totally understand, but if in the grand scheme of things the reward outweighs the potential personal moral ‘cost’ then I say go for it. :slight_smile:

A few hypothetical examples. Perhaps one comes close to the OP’s situation.

1)Scott Cohen was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. Every year, at Passover, he was the boy who asked “Why is this night different from all others?” Today, he’s 30, doesn’t believe in God, lives with a shiksa, and never goes to the synagogue. But he still loves his mama. Well, she’s hosting a big seder dinner for Passover this year. She invites Scott to come, and to ask the question, just like when he was little.

  1. Billy Bob Jones is a wealthy lawyer in Dallas. He’s an atheist today, but grew up in a devout Baptist family in the boondocks of East Texas. Whenever he visits his mama, she says how much it would mean to her if he’d come forward at their local church next Sunday and be baptized. He thinks it’s a stupid idea, but… well, it would make Mama happy, it wouldn’t take but an hour of his time, and once he was back in Dallas, he’d never hjave to go to Church again… so why not?

  2. Mario Bonelli is an atheist who abandoned the Catholic church years ago. His brother Tony is getting married in a Catholic Church, however, and has asked him to read the standard “Love is kind…” epistle at his wedding Mass.

  3. Maureen Flanagan is an atheist who left the Catholic Church years ago. and never attends Mass. Her sister Brigid just had a baby girl, and has asked Maureen to be the godmother.

In all 4 cases, very little time is being asked for, and in all 4 cases, the atheist could make a relative very happy by saying “yes,” and just going through the motions. So, SHOULD they?

In my hypothetical situation, if these people asked for my advice, I’d say:

  1. Scott, go to the seder. It’ll make your Mom happy, you’ll get a good meal, and you won’t really be saying or doing anything that contradicts your principles. You can tell yourself it’s just a family tradition, or a celebration of your ethnic heritage. Do it!

  2. Billy Bob, forget it! You’d be hypocritical AND you’d be demeaning the ritual by going through it under false pretenses.

  3. Mario, do the reading. MAYBE iof the reading in question said some things you just couldn’t accept, you could refuse (or at least ask your brother to pick something more palatable), but in this case, I see no reason why you couldn’t stand up in a church and sing the praises of love.

  4. Maureen… don’t do it. Brigid may be hurt, but being a godparent is supposed to be something special and meaningful. You wouldn’t and couldn’t be a spirutual guide for your niece. Not in the way your sister wants, anyway. So, politely decline.

I hope one of these examples helps.

Could you do the ritual as a gift to your mom, regardless of the rewards? I see two problems that could arise from your doing the ritual: that your mom might be led into a false hope that you are “returning to the fold”, and the obvious issue of whether you would be doing the ritual for the rewards and/or recognition of your family. By doing the ritual because the other family members want you to, not only are you cheapening yourself, you are also leading them to believe in a lie. I could see your mom or relatives resenting this or otherwise being discouraged afterwards.

On the other hand, if you think that you can do the ritual as a gift to Mom, without any strings attached, then I’d say more power to you. She may appreciate the respect that you give to her beliefs, even if you don’t believe them yourself.

Great examples, and I completely agree. The important thing is that 1 and 3 don’t require one to be a member of the faith or to believe in the faith. 2 and 4 do.

As for number 1, I’ve been asked, specifically because I am not Jewish, to attend and ask the Seder question. My hosts thought it would be a wonderful thing to have someone who truly didn’t know the answer ask the question. It was a beautiful evening, and I felt very honored to be a guest - because I was simply allowed to be a guest. I was given an integral role, but no one asked me to synagogue afterward. My own beliefs were not compromised in any way. (YMMV, I have no idea if inviting me was “correct” under Judaic Law. We were all happy with it, though.)

I’ve also been asked to do number 3, and I did. Again, I felt very happy to be honored, and shared in my affection for the couple by reading a passage from their book that they liked a lot. I never stated that I believed everything in said book or accepted said book into my life. There was nothing offensive to me in the passage (if there had been, I would have asked if there wasn’t something else we all liked).

I’ve also been asked number 4. I simply explained to the couple that this was something I took very seriously, and that I’m not Catholic, I’m not willing to help raise anyone in the Catholic church, and that by their own’s Church’s definition of what a godmother is supposed to be, I was not elligible. However, I love and respect them and their daughter, and I would be delighted to be a Spiritmother, chosen and signified in a ritual outside the church walls. Alternatively, I can be a favorite Auntie. (They chose Spiritmother, so the little darling has two godmothers and a godfather, all Catholic, and me, the heathen Spiritmother.)

Yes, 4 doesn’t really count. A Catholic godparent is supposed to be a member in good standing of your parish, and anyone else probably wouldn’t be accepted by the priest. We have two sets of “godparents” for our kids. One in the Church and another who are down in our will to actually take the kids should something happen to us. This isn’t true for every church, though. We were allowed to be godparents for friends in the Episcopal church even though neither of us is Episcopalian and we live on the other side of the country.

Although I don’t believe in or condone public indecency, once in college I streaked past some TV cameras for two dollars…

(Ah, those wacky Episcopalians will let anyone in, won’t they? You know they’re really just UU’s with better incense and matching robes, right? :stuck_out_tongue: ::WhyNot does the Eddie Izzard head shake, head nod thing for a bit:: I kid because I love - my best friend’s mom is an Episcopal priest and I’m duty bound to give 'em hell at every opportunity.)

I’m not sure that Number 4 doesn’t “count.” In my case the priest didn’t even ask who the prospective godparents were, nor did he want to meet us before the ceremony. I could logistically have done it. It was I who had to point out to the parents that it wasn’t quite…well, kosher’s not really the word, is it? Made me more :dubious: than ever about the local church…

As regards the OP, I think that it’s of course a highly personal decision. In my own case, I was very aware of the religious viewpoints of those around me, and more careful not to violate them than they themselves were.

I’d say do it. It’s all B.S. anyway, so what difference does it make if you believe in it or not? Do it, make your mother happy, reap the benefits. Its the smart thing to do.

My sister asked me to be her son’s godmother. I’m an atheist. I told her that I had some degree of respect for Lutheranism, and paid closer attention in Sunday School than most of my still-believing Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and I would be delighted to play a part in the lad’s education in the traditions and beliefs of the Church.

But our pastor wasn’t cool with it. He said they had to find Christian people–not necessarily Lutherans-- whose pastor or priest or what have you would vouch that they came to church every week.

Thhhbbbbt. It’s Christianity’s loss, I’d say. As a godmother, I would have taken my responsibilities very seriously, and presented Christian belief in a respectful, neutral-to-positive way. But now I have no responsibility to be nice about it. Heh heh heh.

Don’t do it! When I was circumcised, I couldn’t walk for a year! :eek:


Based on some of your previous posts, I think I have a pretty good idea which religion you are referring to. If this “ritual” consists of performing an ordinance involving a priesthood which you were once ordained to, but no longer believe in, DON’T DO IT. Even if you don’t believe, it would be a mockery to those who do, and in their eyes a mockery of God.

If I’m making false assumptions here, I apologize

Chas v’shalom, I would never do something like that involving that religion. Priesthood is a very different matter altogether. This is a different religion I’m talking about, which my family and relatives belong to but which I had lost faith in many, many years ago.

(A big thank you to all who have responded so far: each response has helped in its own way. Thank you so much!)

Although I am a bit reluctant to specify the religion or the ritual (as, really, in the end, they are irrelevant), I will say that this ritual is private; nonetheless, word does get out if someone does it regularly. This would mean about half an hour every day, yes, but the rewards (again, quite mundane) would be great. This involves me and, supposedly, God, and no one else. And when I did engage in this, as I did for a short period (then an event occured somewhere in the world that utterly disgusted me and I stopped), no one even saw me (but still one can tell - there are ways to figure out why I closed the door and was occupied for half an hour; dropping “innocent” questions about the ritual to my family members also emphasized that the ritual was being done). And I do not see how the ritual would conflict with my other beliefs and affiliations, since I can rationalize how it can even be compatible. After all, the Goal of all religions tend to be the same in a mystic sense. (My father is an example. He goes further that I would: weekly, he attends a more public version of the ritual, often going with his brother and friends. But he doesn’t believe in the religion, either. He does it to make my mother happy, for standing in our society, and for socializing with his family and relatives. I’d go too, but I work on the day and during the time this occurs. As my father tells me, it doesn’t hurt anyone and only makes others happy and in awe.)

The only drawback is, of course, the slight element of hypocrisy: others’ motives are piety, mine would be pleasing my family and relatives.

Maybe the following have an influence: my mother’s led a very difficult life, and throughout it her hopes have been repeatedly dashed. This is something that if I do will give her some sense of nachas, as it were, or joy.

Also, just recently I got divorced (which, of course, is strongly frowned upon in our society). Engaging in this ritual would enhance my standing as well as turn people towards me. This would also dispell rumors (that happen to be true, unfortunately) that complicate my family’s standing and my own personal ability to win others’ respect and affection. My mother has even explicitly stated that if I begin to engage in this ritual, she would make sure our relatives and family friends know of it, as she also has a vested interest in having them know. (I’m beginning to dislike such societies where every member of a family determines how the entire family is viewed.)

Still: the hypocrisy. I don’t believe in the religion.

But then, many, many, many adherents of the religion engage in various rituals out of a sense of social (not religious or pious or theological) duty and because they were taught they have to - few are pious or involved believers, although they may seem to be. As it is, this religion stresses orthopraxy to a great extent, rather than orthodoxy (although I am sure pious adherents would argue differently): the codes of law of the religion deal mostly with how to do things correctly rather than how to believe correctly.

WRS - a flip-flopper I am, no? Do it, don’t do it, do it, don’t do it. Oy.