By Melanie McDonagh, Spectator
Well, Prince George has already done his bit for the Church of England. Simply by getting baptised he will bolster a sacrament that pretty well defines Christianity and is, like the state church which he may yet be head of (assuming disestablishment never happens), in sharp decline.
In 1950, nearly 70 per cent of the population was baptised into the CofE, with most of the remainder christened into other denominations; in 2010 it was fewer than 20 per cent, and falling. Perhaps Kate Middleton can do for baptism what she does for Reiss dresses – bring it back into fashion. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a splendid little pep talk on video about the event, saying that he hoped it would inspire others to get their babies christened; at the same time he warned against thinking that it was something just for ‘special people’ as opposed to everyone.
Nothing, really, could have summed up the decline of the CofE so much as that observation. Once getting a child christened was just what you did, just like getting married was something you just did. In Alfie, the original, brilliant film, Michael Caine observes his girlfriend getting their child christened without him – it was a rather moving moment – and it defined his distance from his baby. Now the British working class may have a sort of folk memory of the sacrament from their grandmothers but it’s a opt-in rather than an opt-out custom, not something you do by default. It’s something children learn about in the same way they learn about Diwali, as an interesting thing religious people do.
In these circumstances it may seem a bit perverse to make the whole thing less accessible, but that’s what I’m suggesting. I want godparents to be chosen from people who can believe what they’re saying at the event. And what they’re being asked to do – like Prince George’s were – is to renounce Satan (and all his works and pomps) and to declare they believe in God.