Before I acknowledged to myself that I was an atheist I accepted the honored role of godmother to my niece, A. I felt I could surely find some middle ground and emphasize humanistic ethical and moral values that would presumably overlap with the many Catholic teachings I did not share but that she’d be expected to absorb. By the time A was approaching her 1st communion and its associated celebration, I was much more disapproving of the psychological and intellectual coercion inherent in the religious indoctrination of children, and, too late, I felt I was being coerced in a way too.
The party was an invitation to shower the freshly minted child believer with meaningful religious-themed mementos and fine jewelry. I chose to give her a book about the universality and cultural permutations of the Golden Rule, a humanistic guideline if ever there was one. I also gave her a Mary Englebreit plaque featuring the Golden Rule.
Several years later now my nephew, D, has just had his 1st communion. I was not able to attend the event or his party, but I sent him a card with a picture of a dog with one paw held up. Inside it read, “High Five! Congratulations!” and I enclosed a small check. What’s an aunt to do? It was a compromise. I don’t think D should be judged, let alone harshly, for letting himself be trained; he was not allowed a choice in the matter. So I sent him a secular card with a slightly subversive tone and a token gift. In a sense, I rolled over. But he was a Good Boy.