I read this article in the Atlantic magazine recently about the latest research into the brain and how it works. The article asks some interesting questions about the intersection of the criminal justice system and our evolving understanding of how the brain works and suggests that rather than a punitive, backwards looking approach, we would do bettert to adapt a forward-looking, therapeutic approach to crime. Fascinating stuff, but where my mind went was to ponder what all this had to do with baptism.
That's right, baptism. Something I have long struggled with is trying to come to an understanding of what occurs in baptism. Baptism is the central rite of Christian life. I feel lucky to have been baptized as an adult so that I can remember what it was like to experience it and I could go on and on about how it changed my life. And as a hospital chaplain, I've been privileged to baptize a handful of people. In my gut I could sense that something was happening, but I struggled to name what that something was.
but this article gave me something that has proven very helpful. A centerpiece of the article is research that suggests, very little, if any, of the choices we make are truly free. Rather they are driven by unconscious motivations formed through of web of genetics, family systems, and cultural conditioning. Reading this, I immediately thought of Paul, writing in his letter to the Romans about not being able to do the things he desires to do, but doing instead that which he abhors. who hasn't had the experience of getting in their own way and choosing to do things we know are wrong or, at least, questionable?
All of which led me to the thought that maybe in baptism, we introduce the Holy Spirit into the mix of unconscious drivers of our actions. This article reinforces for me that how and where we grow up matters. Baptism alone isn't enough to make us "good" Christians. Like DNA, it gives us potential but for potential to turn into talent, it must be honed and exercised. This is one of the reasons that we cannot be Christians all by our selves, we must hone our Spirit in community and practice our faith so that it becomes a strong driver in our psychic mix.
Obviously this isn't a well drawn out theory, but its a start and feels like something I can work with and it fits with our modern understanding fo how our bodies and minds work.