Sunday, June 17, 2007

An ethical dilemma

This picture is for Lu.

One of my readers sent me an e-mail today and asked me to ask you all for your opinion on this situation.

Reader X has a brother who is getting married in the Catholic church later this year. X was originally not asked to be in the wedding, which was fine with X, but brother and bride, perhaps thinking that X might feel snubbed, asked X to do a reading at the wedding.

Ok, X is fine with that, and X started researching cool things to read. Then X learned today that there is a list of approved readings, all of which come from the bible, and that X must choose one of these.

X is an atheist. Here is X's question, in X's own words.

"I want you to ask your readership if I'm being inconsiderate, persnicketty, pig-headed, or honest, if I tell them I don't think I can do it. I don't want to be the hypocrite, standing in front of them in their monumental moment, reciting something from a text I don't believe, affirming my and their love to a god I don't believe in.

On the other hand, maybe it's just a gesture that I need to make to show I'm happy to participate in any way in their celebration."
One other thing that i think is relevant to this discussion; The Catholocism of the wedding appears to be driven by the bride's mother, who also appears to be running the show.
I think i know what i would do, but X wants to hear from you about what you would do. Then i'll chime in with my opinion. And hopefully, X will let us know the decision that was made.
X, you know who you are, if i have misrepresented anything, e-mail me and i will fix it.
Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Am I first? Wow...
Anyway, I married in a Catholic church. None of my readers were Catholic. I didn't ask them to read so they'd become or believe anything they read... I just wanted them to celebrate the marriage. They all did that with smiles and much enthusiasm, and none of them had to convert! They knew what we believed, and respected that enough to participate and support that without their own beliefs being threatened. It wasn't hypocritical because we knew they weren't believers, just readers. Tell reader X, it's ok to participate!

flutter said...

It all comes down to what you feel is right. Perhaps instead of doing a reading at the church, you could ask to do a non church sanctioned reading at the reception?

Lynn said...

I think that if X doesn't feel comfortable reading from the approved list, then she should just graciously bow out. I think that the whole purpose of the readings is for the reader to help convey the meaning of what is being read...unless, of course, X is a fabulous actress in which case no one will know that she is not sincere.

Dick said...

I kind of agree with flutter. If X isn't comfortable with it, tell the friends that and why. Then ask if there is something else he/she can do to help with the wedding. If they are good friends they will appreciate the honesty.

SUEB0B said...

Yeah, Dick's comment is to me the right mix of truthfulness and kindness.

I have directions in my file that is labeled "What to do in case I get hit by a bus" that specifically state NO PSALM 23 at my funeral.

Anonymous said...

Has X looked at the possible selections--that is, actually read them? It's entirely possible that X will find a choice among them that s/he is just fine with. thus not having to make any uncomfortable choices.

Stucco said...

Schedule conflict. X is supposed to see a guy about a thing that day. A thousand pardons, and it's a damned shame he/she won't be able to attend, but please carry on...

Anonymous said...

I think it would be great for X to ask the brother and bride - precisely the way you did. They are all on a path to becoming a family.... start now...

I wish X luck and happiness!

Anonymous said...

Marriages don't happen every day and Its X's brother. Its a reading his brother asked him to read (the most important thing) written by someone a long time ago not something he necessarily endorses. Just because its written in the bible doesn't mean that its necessarily all that "religious." It may be something he agrees with, even. For example, if he's reading 1st Corinthians 13:4-7, thats just some good stuff no matter what.

QT said...

This is a tough one, I tried to picture if I knew a Native American couple and they asked me to read something at their wedding, would I be freaked out because I am a different religion?

I agree with the poster that said no one is telling X they have to convert, and it is a SIBLING after all, not a long-ago friend from high school or something. I don't think it is hypocritical at all to be there - would it be hypocritical for a bunch of Catholics to go to X's atheist wedding?

That being said, if X is close enough to the brother that they can express these concerns, maybe X can light the candles at the ceremony or something else symbolic. But I would make the request in such a way that it doesn't disturb the plans too much - after all, it is the brother's wedding, and it should be about that, really.

Mrs. Chili said...

I'm commenting before reading anyone else's comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating someone's advice.

I think X needs to really think about how important it is for him (I'm assuming a him for the sake of convenience) to participate in this wedding. If it's important enough to him - whether because it's important to him or he knows that it's important to his brother - then he should do the reading. It's just a reading; no one's asking him to accept communion or attend classes or convert. His reading something from the Bible won't make him a hypocrite, it would make him someone who wants to be a part of his brother's happiest day.

Forgive me for being long winded, but I have to add this here. When I got married, I asked two of my very dear friends to participate in my wedding. My friends are lesbian and, because they can't marry, they didn't feel they could participate in MY wedding. While I understand and wholeheartedly respect their decision, I felt - I don't know, I still haven't come up with a good adjective for it, and it's eleven years later - but icky somehow. I felt bad that my happy occasion was cause for their consternation, and I resented, just a little, that their decision not to participate in my wedding wasn't because they didn't love me, but because they didn't love what I was doing. That part tears at me - I'm SO supportive of gay marraige and I have to admit that I felt a little guilty that I was able to marry and they weren't (and still aren't). Like I said, I respect their choice, and I certainly don't love them any less, but my wedding was somehow less than it could have been had they chosen to participate.

I'll stop now. X, you've got to decide what feels right for YOU, despite what I said - or what ANY of us said - here. I wishyou luck.

lu said...

Thanks for the Pic. Meno! I'll be there next year, but not in pink. pink just isn't as flattering as those feline animal prints.

Now, for the ethical dilemma; I hear Glen Campbell singing, "He ain't heavy, he's my brother."

X has been asked to read the passage as a representative of his brother, not as his own proclamation. I think it would be a mistake and a missed opportunity to show respect for his brother and his choices if he turns this one down. In doing it there is no harm, no foul. In not doing it, there will be hard feelings that last longer than the few minutes of discomfort in the sanctuary.

Lynn@ZelleBlog said...

I know atheists who would object on principle, and some who even complain when somebody says Merry Christmas. Then I know some who would say it back, and just try to appreciate the gesture.

I would be honest and say that participation would be a supportive thing, and ask if they perhaps wanted to find people who shared their faith. If they said they did not care, I would not care.

I mean, if you are already willing to go to the Church and participate in a religious ceremony, why get so bent about reading some words? There are many other things of a religious nature that will happen, some will involve the audience.

Will this person object to the rest? If not, then go the little extra mile. There doesn't seem to be a question about whether or not its ok to be in the Church as an atheist.

So perhaps select something as neutral as possible?

amusing said...

I read the Bible in high school as a text, just like Moby Dick or Sense & Sensibility. If you look at it as a piece of literature, writing that has affected people in the world, that removes the squeamish religious connotation. If X has interest in participating, s/he might have a look at the readings suggested to see if anything there might actually convey something s/he'd like to share. (And who's to say it needs to be verbatim? Edit if need be!)

Otherwise, if it's all just too too religious or cliched, then I support what others have suggested about bowing out, maybe particpiating at the reception with a toast or a moment.

Marshamlow said...

I recommend reading the selections, just because they come from the bible doesn't mean they are about God. Most of the readings I have heard at Catholic weddings have to do with love and really don't mention religion or God at all. I think you owe it to your brother to read the selections before making your decision. I can understand that you would feel that your beliefs are being dismissed and ignored by asking you to read something out of the bible. I think it really depends on you. I personally have participated in religious ceremonies from many different countries, things I don't necessarily believe in but respect none the less. I think you should do it because it is their day and showing respect for their choices on their day makes you a tolerant person. But, if you can't bow out early so they can find someone else.

ephelba said...

Oooo, this is fun!

I'm an atheist too, and if it were me I would look at the list and try to find something I agreed with (as others have mentioned above) because it was my brother, and the wedding is about him (again, as others have mentioned above). Reading from the big icky book would be my gift to him, something I would be doing entirely for him and his wife, to make their ceremony what they wanted it to be.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I don't see a problem with X doing the reading.

I had a Catholic wedding and no one at our wedding was even Catholic (it was a small destination wedding with only 14 guests). I know it made some people uncomfortable, but on the other hand, I just wanted them to be there. I didn't expect anyone to be hanging on to the priest's words.

If the real issue is that X is concerned that his non-belief will belittle their ceremony by being the "hypocrite standing in front of their monumental moment" then maybe he should be up front? He could say "I will do this reading because I know this is part of your big day, but I don't really believe in it. Is that okay?"

I guess I'm just saying I've never seen a wedding where every single guest was saying "amen".

thailandchani said...

If I was in X's position, I would consider it this way: The wedding is for the couple, not for her/him. While it might be obnoxious reading a passage from the Bible, (I'd likely find it a bit weird, too, being as I am not Christian) I would choose the passage that has a principle that speaks something good.. and go with that.



Lee said...

I am an ex-Catholic gone atheist. I think it would be a mockery to get up there and spout something I didn't beleive in. It would be like getting up there and extolling the virtues of Santa Claus.

If I were the friend, I would be honest and ask if there were any other way I could participate.

jaded said...

This sticky situation seems to be well addressed by the others.

I try to be respectful of different beliefs, save those that advocate harming others. But it's become almost impossible to be PC in situations like this because the "proper" reaction is often dictated by those asking you to forfeit beliefs important to you. Good luck following your heart, X, and know you are not alone.

Lynnea said...

Well its all been said here. But I'll chime in too.

My initial reaction was no way don't do it. But then I started thinking about my own wedding. I asked my mother to do something in the wedding and she kept being picky because she didn't want to offend her religious beliefs. I am not religious, it was a gesture. I told her that there was in no way whatsoever a religious meaning behind the gesture and I would appreciate it if she would do this for me, because I wanted it in my wedding. I didn't want to disprespect her beliefs, but I was asking her to respect my wishes. I would have understood if she ultimately said no, but I would also have been disappointed.

The point being, they are asking for something for a very special moment in their lives. You don't have to believe something to read it, nor do you have to act like you do. I think you could go ahead and read it. It can't hurt to talk to the brother and fiancee about your (X's) feelings but I'm guessing that your (X's) brother all ready knows how you (X) feel?

karmic said...

I think the others have addresses this well, and I may not have much of value to add. But I loved reading what all had to say.
My 2 cents would be that "X" seems to have been invited as an afterthought? Given that and the other things that I know, if I were him I might decline the reading. But I am also sure this is not the best way to handle this situation.
Having said that, has X considered sending this question to Randy Cohen who writes "the ethicist" column in the Sunday Times mag?

alphawoman said...

I believe (I am Catholic and one sister got married in the church and the other in an outdoor ceremony that took them forever to find a priest who could conduct the service outside, for some weird reason, it is against Catholic rules...the priest they found was on a sabatical and a maverick, no doubt) if you want to get married in the Catholic church you have to play by their rules. How is he getting out of the six months of marriage counseling they require?

Anonymous said...

I guess it comes down to whether X doesn't want to participate because this is a church service (doesn't sound like that) or doesn't want to read from the Bible. If it is the latter, then I would suggest X asks the brother which reading the couple would like and decide if the idea is something X can go along with, regardless of its origin. If is is something that goes against X's beliefs (or lack thereof) then respectfully decline.

Liv said...

I'd say, it's your brother. Read the damned passage. The two that I remember having during my Catholic service were related to marriage and love. They had nothing to do with God and/or Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit. Ixnay on the Virgin Mary too. This is family, and sometimes, even though we're not hip to the jive, you just do things for your family because you don't need to rock the boat. If you start going on and on about this being counter to your beliefs, you make this day about you instead of your brother. That's not fair. On the other hand, if you and your brother don't get along, don't lose any sleep over it---just don't do it. But, if you plan on attending, what's the big deal in reading? No one's asking you to bless yourself or take communion. In fact, the Catholics would rather you didn't.

Ms. Skywalker said...

I would roll over and play dead.

Meaning, I'd do it, just as a gesture to them.

They are just words, right?

ms chica said...

It's difficult to believe you're posting about an ethical dilemma, when the first picture I see is a grown man wearing saran wrap...Then I spotted the bunny and it all made sense.

peevish said...

X: Don't do it! There are lots of ways for you to show support for the marriage without sacrificing your own beliefs. Don't be bullied into it.

Anonymous said...

What part of their beliefs are they "sacrificing" by reading a few lines of what they must consider ancient poetry? Are the words going to melt their brains (or change their beliefs??)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the anonymous comment left at 12:24 p.m. and other like comments. But then again, spirituality and its manifestation (or lack thereof) known as religion are supremely and purely personal matters. In that sense, your posing of the question and even X's publicizing this as a dilemma is unfair to the rest of us. All we can do is listen carefully to the question, maybe ask for a few more facts and details, and then weigh in with nothing more than our own individual answer that CAN'T be right for X no matter how much we think or wish it is. And now I find myself reminding myself that perhaps X and Meno weren't looking for a right answer, just what each person thinks about it, or would do. That's fine, but I still think that any assistance anyone could try to give would be impossible to define or quantify.

I highly doubt that any of the choices, being as they would all be selected as appropriate for a wedding, could cause anyone, religious, atheist, agnostic, whatever, to cringe. I mean, Ezekiel 23 isn't a choice is it (as a warning to the wife not to stray)? (Go-read it. It's fascinating) Read whatever selection most speaks to your hopes for your brother's and his new bride's life together. I'm sure you can do so without in any way being hypocritical in regards to your spirituality.

Girlplustwo said...

i think it's the intention that matters. If X cannot in their heart get on board w/ reading something from the bible, then gracefully pass. if X can do it out of spirit and love for the wedded folk, then do it in that spirit.

but otherwise, you know, it's like a forced holiday. we go through the motions and feel all empty inside.

LazyLazyMe said...

Nah, reading it is endorsing it I'm afraid.

Um, also being asked as an afterthought? Just say "I'm happy to be there and be happy for you, don't make me look like a twat and be the only liar on a day of truth"


Anonymous said...

Having been part of, either directly or peripherally, dozens of family weddings, I only have this to add: unless it's a statement X must make in order to live with himself for the rest of his life, read the words to keep the peace. To send good and supportive vibes to an important person in your life, as opposed to creating an environment of ill feelings and discomfort. Families have been torn apart by lesser things, and in the end, I suppose the question X must ask of himself is what matters more to him?

I don't know; compromising oneself in the name of appeasing another (the bridezilla's mother?) is an untenable choice to make. Willfully placing a stone of distance between oneself and a cherished human in one's life, equally so. Which choice leaves your heart intact and your soul undamaged in the long, long run of life? That's the choice to be made.

meno said...

Thanks all for your input. It was very interesting to see what parts of it each of you chose to respond to. Just to be fair, if it were me, i would just do it, after i cleared with the brother that it was okay if i didn't mean it. I would consider it a gift to my brother and a contribution to their wedding day.

.......But you know, as i just typed that, and really imagined ME, getting up in a church and reading from the bible, i got kind of a sick feeling. And now i am not sure.

Either way, i wouldn't make a big fuss about it.

Could i be any less helpful?

Anonymous said...

Anybody who decides to have a formal wedding with “roles” such as who is going to be the “reader” should choose a person who subscribes to their beliefs. To do otherwise is to put a friend or family member on the spot unnecessarily. The fact that they “excluded” him at first and then offered him the dubious “honor” of reading is, in my opinion, insensitive and tasteless. They should have just invited him to the wedding period. Or offered to name him best man or something, but not something which compromises his beliefs. To those who would say, “It’s no big deal, everybody knows you don’t believe in God, just do it as a gesture to make them happy,” I would say this: It IS a big deal. Otherwise, why would one have all of these formal details incorporated into a formal wedding? If the person who is the reader does not share in their beliefs, it is a total farce to ask this person to be the reader. This does not imply that a loved one cannot participate in the wedding, or at least attend the wedding, as I said before, but why put them in an awkward position? And if he did not feel awkward and ambivalent about it, he would not have written to you asking for the opinion of your readers. Clearly, he is in a compromised state, and it is unfair for the bride and groom to do this to him.

So… if I were in the same position… I would say, “I would feel more comfortable about this if you chose someone who believes as you do, as if you were choosing someone to be a godparent and were concerned that your child be raised in your faith by a person who would take this duty upon themselves with all of their heart. If you still wish to invite me to the wedding, I would be delighted to witness your happy rite of passage, and sincerely wish you both all of the very best.”

I think we can all be tolerant and open-minded without having to "do it somebody else's way," even if it is their wedding.

Lori said...

I haven't read all of the other comments, but my initial reaction is this: If X is truly uncomfortable reading from the Bible at his brother's wedding, he should relate this. I'm assuming the brother knows that X is an atheist. I find it a little surprising that the brother would ask X to read from the Bible in this case. It is a matter of respect for one another's beliefs. It sounds like X was asked as an afterthought, instead of truly wanting him to be a part of the ceremony. Could they not pick something from a book of poetry for X to read, then have someone else read scripture? The brother and his wife to be have every right to have a verse from the Bible read at their wedding, but they also should not put someone they love in an awkward position. Personally, if I didn't think someone truly felt the words they were reading at a wedding, I wouldn't want them to be the one to share them.

Anonymous said...

I would read it. Look, no matter where they get married or how they get married, the point is they are getting married and X either supports that or she doesn't. If she does: do the reading they prefer. It could be worse ya know. She isn't asked to skip rope 10 times, run around the alter 3 times in one direction then 3 times in the other direction only to finish with five loud whoops. I mean, a wedding can be crazy and then it can be crazy.
Good luck X.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I am troubled by the fact that there is a required reading list from which no one may deviate. There is so much beautiful poetry from all over the world that would meaningfully enhance the joining together of two people who love each other. The tightly scripted choices seem terribly canned to me.

But as to the dilemma. I think it depends partly on how close X is to his/her brother. If he or she is being asked to read out of a feeling of propriety rather than real feeling, I would possibly opt out.

If on the other hand, there is real love between the siblings and X's participation would enhance the day for his/her brother, then it is still possible to express honesty while reading words that have no meaning to the reader - the honest love felt for X's brother.

Years from now, what will be remembered is who shared the wedding day with the bridal couple, not what was read.

Carolie said...

I think it's incredibly important to stand up for one's own beliefs, and not buckle just to please others.

That being said, I also think it's incredibly important not to make someone else's event "about me."

Reading beautiful words, even if they come from "the big icky book" shouldn't be an ethical dilemma if those words are about love and marriage, and not about "accepting Jesus Christ as your one and only personal savior."

Is it possible to think of the reading as simply coming from a work of fiction, as many non-biblical readings would? For example, reading an Emily Dickinson poem would not mean one considers Dickinson his or her "personal savior," or that one believes in every thought Dickinson puts forth in every poem she ever wrote...

On the other hand, if reading from the bible will make X terribly uncomfortable, I think suggesting to the bride and groom that perhaps someone else would be better suited to be the reader would be a good idea. (Though to me, entering the church, sitting and standing with the rest of the congregation, etc. is just as participatory as reading from the bible...sort of "I'll go to the hare krishna wedding, I'll wear the saffron robes and stand with the crowd, but I won't CHANT.)

My brother is a deacon in the Southern Baptist church. NOT, and I can't imagine a universe where I might even come close. We do NOT see eye-to-eye, and have had many heated debates. Over and above the theology, I completely disagreed with his choice to get "rebaptized" (we called it The Great Dunking). But...when he asked me, as his sister, to come to the service, I said yes...because he is my brother and I love him. I wasn't there to support the service, or his decision to be rebaptized. I was there to support my brother.

I disagreed with his choice, but he is an adult, and I support his right to make his own choices. His choice does not affect me, but me withdrawing my love and presence would have affected him.

Just my two cents (and re-reading the above, the words come across as rather angry...I'm not at all angry, so please read with the idea that I was feeling introspective, not judgemental...)

Farm Town Tips said...

I would say that full disclosure is always the best bet. If you dont feel comfortable doing something, then work it out with the people in question.

Biscotto said...

I think X should read the godliest of the preferred passages, wearing nothing but saran wrap and pink body paint.

Oh, dear, no, that wouldn't be right at all.

X needs to look at the passages. If they all would make X feel like X is wearing pink body paint and saran wrap, then X needs to apologetically suggest a palatable reading or make it possible for X to be gracefully disinvited from the honor.

As for palatable readings, I'd suggest something from the Song of Solomon. It's sacred and it's sex. What more could you ask for?

If quoting from the Song of Solomon, be sure to include this part "Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which
came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them."

Oh yeah. Good stuff, eh?