The Ethical Dilemma: Dedication Service

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Dedication Service: I am an agnostic humanist and my younger brother is an atheist. Our older siblings are Catholic and Baptist. We are a close family but struggle in terms of our major ideological differences. My younger brother and I actively have dialogues with each other opposing Christianity while my older sister continuously tries to “save” us.

My sister had her first son (third child) a few months ago and invited my younger brother and me to the “dedication service” or baptism at their church. Neither my younger brother nor I want to spend over two hours of our Sunday in a church, but we love our nieces and nephews and do not want to offend our sister. We all live in the same town with little wiggle room for no-show excuses. Do we go (and as we joke, suffer) for the sake of family or should we expect our sister to understand and respect our ideological differences?

Family Pains


Dear Pains,

It seems like a no-brainer that you and your brother should manage to “suffer the little children” for a measly two hours in a church in solidarity with your family. It’s less of a spend than an investment—and certainly not a waste. People of all different stripes show up at various life-event ceremonies without fretting that they don’t practice whatever faith is involved. The overriding principle is sharing time and marking milestones with people you care about.

It doesn’t appear that anyone is asking you to participate in the Christian aspects any more than they would expect their Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist friends to. They’re just asking you to be there with them. Please do it, and do it graciously.

Suffering is in the eye of the beholder. I just went through an airplane delay ten times as long and way more uncomfortable and inconvenient than your anticipated time in the church, but I accepted it as an unavoidable side effect of traveling, and this is a side effect of being part of your family. You’ll be with relatives and friends—including treasured nieces and nephews, plus a brand-new one—and that should be a joy scarcely diminished by the church setting. And don’t you want those nieces and nephews to be close to their agnostic-humanist-atheist aunt and uncle, rather than grow up vaguely aware of their mom’s unsaved, no-show siblings? So go—and enjoy it. No need to suffer.