Lady Gaga is everyone's godparent

Earlier this week I came across this tweet from some etiquette site:

@Debretts How do you choose a godparent? Is it for their contacts and status, their talents or personality, or their friendship? http://bit.ly/qrR1Ab

I responded "Um, their faith?" It reminded me of that discussion we had about a month ago, where we looked at some curious media treatment of godparents (See: "Cracking the godparent code"). Readers kept sending in stories about "godparents" who seemed to have no actual godparent relationship. Frequently these folks weren't Christian or otherwise religious. It was a weird thing to observe.

Godparents are a very important part of my life and the lives of my children. In my confession of faith, baptismal sponsors or godparents serve as eyewitnesses to the sacrament. They are encouraged to pray daily for their godchildren and help with their religious instruction. I have several godchildren and am so pleased to serve in the vocation of godmother.

But apparently there's this whole other country (and I mean that literally and figuratively) where being a godparent can either be an ever-so-slightly religious relationship or a completely irreligious relationship. Or that's how it looks to the media, at least.

The Guardian explains, in light of the news that Tony Blair is godfather to Rupert Murdoch's daughter, godparents are about power, influence and networking. Now, the first thing that's interesting about this is that Murdoch was made a papal knight and Blair rather famously converted to Catholicism back in 2007. The baptism in question happened in 2010. So are we sure this wasn't a story of the traditional spiritual role of godparent?

The story begins with a description of the 2010 christening of the Murdoch girls and explains that Blair and Murdoch's wife Wendi Deng are "closest friends" before we learn:

In that same Vogue article, Jackman says that Deng wants her children "to have a spiritual life … They go to church and Sunday school regularly." But the appointment of these godparents whiffs of dynastic positioning and the soldering of a relationship that might be of as much use, if not more, to the parents as to their children. Not so much a spiritual calling as a way of toadying your way to the top table.

And then we're off to the conjecture races, totally certain that this Blair as godfather business is all about power. I do not know these people. For all I know, these claims are true. But the story completely conflates the stories of Christians baptizing children and asking friends to serve as godparents -- a rather time-honored tradition -- with famous Hollywood types of the Jewish persuasion being called godparents for other famous non-Christians.

Here's a sample of what the author means by "power godparenting":

Of course, this kind of positioning has been going on in the aristocracy for centuries, and the celebrity world for decades. Prince Charles apparently has 33 godchildren, and approaches the role with quirky consideration; one of his goddaughters, India Hicks, recently remarked that, "for many years, I would receive a china teacup or a gravy dish – confusing, at times, for a young child, but now, as an adult, I have complete sets of beautiful china". Elton John has 10 godchildren, including Sean Lennon, Damian Hurley, Brooklyn and Romeo Beckham. (Suggestions that some friends might have been put out when he had his own child, Zachary, last year, thus creating a more immediate heir to his fortune, are surely wide of the mark.) John embraced the world of celebrity godparenting again this April when he announced, to some astonishment, that Lady Gaga, wearer of meat dresses and lobster hats, was being appointed Zachary's spiritual guide. "When you get to the real person under there," he explained, "there's a real simple person who loves her parents."

The author of the piece ever-so-lightly mentions that godparents used to serve a religious role but says that "The situation of one of my close friends – a secular lesbian feminist with two Muslim godchildren who call her "auntie" – is not all that unusual now." I bet it's still pretty unusual.

In fact, paragraph after paragraph avoids discussion of religion in favor of this power godparenting thing of British elites. It's a very odd piece in part because it doesn't talk to people who simply hold a traditional posture on godparenting. If you only read this article, you would be led to believe that the Steven Spielberg-Gwyneth Paltrow relationship of doling out gifts is what being a godparent is.

Image via Wikipedia.

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