Monday, June 14, 2010

On Catholic confirmation

On, people regularly ask Richard Wade for advice on their religion-related conflicts.  The last question came from a 13-year-old atheist whose parents want her to get confirmed.

The idea behind confirmation (and I'm speaking exclusively of Catholic confirmation) is that it gives people a chance to affirm their own faith.  After all, babies, when they're baptized, can hardly affirm their own faith.  So Catholics need another initiation ceremony for older people, usually teenagers.  Many other religions have ceremonies and rituals fulfilling a similar purpose.

When I was a Catholic teenager, I refused to get confirmed on principle.  It wasn't that I had stopped believing by then.  I simply didn't consider myself particularly religious, and figured I could get confirmed later if that ever changed.  My parents wanted me to get confirmed but I insisted that it should be my choice lest we defeat the entire point of confirmation.

But now I see confirmation for what it really is.  Confirmation is there to give the illusion of choice.  Many religious people like to think that their own religion is not merely an accident of birth, but something they personally chose.  But the illusion falls apart when you look at the experiences of people who try to choose something different.

(From the comments at Friendly Atheist)
I agreed to Confirmation on the contigency that I never attend youth group or Bible study ever again or Mass after turning 18. My parents reluctantly agreed. When we had our meeting with the coordinator, I told her I was an atheist only being confirmed to appease my parents, and she really didn’t care. She took no offense at my lip service or coercion, nor did she try one last time to convert me.
I’m and atheist but i went through confirmation because as a boyscout i needed a religious leader to sign off that I’m religious.
I was confirmed in 8th grade. What I remember of it was mostly sitting through the classes, with the promise that the classes were leading up to this, and once it’s over, I wouldn’t have to go to the classes anymore. An appealing prospect to me, so I went through with it.
The morning of the day I was supposed to get confirmed arrived, and when I said I didn’t want to go she just broke down in tears crying about her failure as a mother. I went to the ceremony because of that, and haven’t been to a church except for funerals or weddings since.
On the other hand, when I myself refused to get confirmed, my parents simply let me go without too much fuss.  So perhaps there is still hope for the principle of the thing.

An additional note: according to Catholic Canon law, Catholics must be confirmed before they marry "if they can do so without serious inconvenience."  From what I hear, the confirmation requirement is only enforced by the pastor who marries the couple, and many pastors don't enforce it.  But still, I'm sure many people get confirmed just because they want to get married in the church.  I find myself wondering how meaningful confirmation really is when people get confirmed just because they want a particular kind of marriage ceremony.

Happily, that will never be an issue for me, because I think it's safe to say I will never get a Catholic marriage ceremony anyway.