Friday, December 7, 2007

Baptism and Social Contract

Baptism in the middle ages, according to Leithart, meant more than religious rite. It served the dual function of entry into the church and "civil registry". He brings this up to demonstrate the important connection between religion and society that existed until the 1600's. Baptism had a clear sociological import.

Why is this significant? Leithart contends that modern political theory, with its Lockean view of human nature as "hard atoms", makes a strong view of baptism difficult to maintain. In this individualistic political environment, we are "I" before we are "We" and even then we are "I" first - the individual is in the major key. Here, the deep and abiding sociological implications of baptism become more difficult to imagine.

Leithart counters this with an interesting sociological observation from sociologist Rosenstock-Huessy. We don't start as an "I". It's just not our experience. We all begin as "You". We don't develop as isolated individuals. Rather, we come to know who we are by what others (mom/dad/grandma) say to us. He says, "Our children only speak in the first person after they have been addressed in the second person . . . infants develop a sense of personal identity because we talk to them using names they didn't choose."

The importance of this point will be clearer in a bit. Suffice for now to say, if who we are defined by this relational interaction, then the implications of baptism come to the fore. In the rite of baptism our heavenly Father speaks to us and what he says forms who we are.


benjamin said...

all mucho interesting, as political theory is a long love of mine. why did you stop blogging? the questions raised about the connections/in-congruencies btwn baptism and social contract (post enlightenment individual) may support my own ideas -crazy as they may be. anyway, it's been over a year now. i'm sure you've finished the book. funny, i never regarded my baptism with any sense of a rite of entry/admittance/or joining the team. in fact my understanding of baptism has always been exactly that which is supported in this passage. i (we sbc) understood baptism as a quasi necessity/strong suggestion for"salvation". regardless of the theological/doctrinal inconsistencies of that statement the point is that we knew baptism as important for me, the individual. it was never stressed -or at least it was shadowed by the more important individualistic "salvation" theme- as serving as an ingress to the body(corporate) body of christ. wow! much implication can now be drawn from this reality. though we are absolutely individuals we are defined in the interaction (dynamic) with the corporate. i believe the in-congruency results not from the inability to mesh political theory and our faith; rather the problem is the acceptance of locke as having a viable political and individual (human nature) understanding. he and his buddy hobbes have a none-faith understanding and explanation of politics and humanity. i do not subscribe to the misunderstanding that life would be ...nasty, brutish and short... apart from governance. therein is some of the problems we face when combining our political identities and our faith identity. have you read any Yoder? i am going through his important work Politics of Jesus. so far it's held up as very strong and consistent in logic. let me know what you thoughts are on this this.

Greg Fields said...

Wow - thanks for the thoughtful post. Actually, I did finish the book but have not had time to get back to a paragraph by paragraph summary. I've not read much Yoder - more Hauerwas. I do love the stress in his writing on Christianity being a rival politic - though I can't say much more than that. A Trinitarian view of reality also plays a central part in this discussion as well. It seems to me that the Trinity restrains the primacy of the individual (Locke) and points, instead, to an equal ultimacy of individual and community. This is all very frustrating for me - maybe the reason I stopped blogging - because my thinking on this is still in the infancy stage.

benjamin said...

Got to Yoder via Hauerwas. I do like him as well, mostly because of his heavy use of philo. First book I read of his referenced Foucault, Hegel, Wittgenstein in the first few pages. Again, i love philo. He also has much to say about community of believers. As far as Locke is concerned, I do not like the dicotomy created btwn the indiv and the community. The individual is defined through his participation in the community. Cannot go the other way. A community cannot be defined by individuals acting in autonomy. Therefore i believe, for me anyway, its best inderstood as one opperating as part of the other. Interesting. Though Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbs were important in their influence and great in their scope they also had detrimental effect in the layman's participation in church community -my feelings. That's y I liked so much the summary of the book. Politically I fall more allong the lines of Bakunin and Proudon. I believe those to b the best avenues toward a consistent, cohesive politic and theology. Of course though I dissagree with their use of violence as the means. Anyway, ive got students staring at me as I type on my phone. Need to begin lesson. We MUST continue soon.