Geertz’sessay of 1965 pointed out that, every individual in the world mayhave a religion even though they might not understand its meanings,but still, they would practice the religion. It is a way of life thatis clearly demarcated by rules of operation and respect for the upperbeing. In this perspective, Geertz opted to define religion as a bodyof symbols that acts to create dominant or influential, insidious andeven longer lasting feelings of inspirations and dispositions inmen(Chernus,“Religionas a Cultural System: The Theory of Clifford Geertz”). The symbols,therefore, create some conception of order for existence in these menand cloth the conceptions with an atmosphere of facts as the moodsand motivations become a reality (Chernus,“Religionas a Cultural System: The Theory of Clifford Geertz”). As it isevident, these symbols seem to evade the conscious aspect ofreasoning rather they rely on moods and motivations of believers toform an arena of factuality. Baptism is one of the symbols present inmen especially of Judeo-Christian origin and seems to depend onfeelings and motivations to create an atmosphere of reality in peopleas it supposedly creates acts in human beings across the globe. Thegreatest symbol associated with baptism is that the partakers in thisChristian ritual believe that, it represents the death of JesusChrist and the water used seems to separate an individual from hissinful past to the current purity or rather a salvation. Thus, thepresent paper aims to look at some of the Christian symbolsassociated with baptism in line with the ideas within Geertzdefinition.
Thereal meaning attached to baptism as a symbol is very conflicting inthe life of a new believer. But then, Christ offered a dimension uponwhich every Christian can attach to in their normal christen lives.The Bible mentions of Christ revealing the true meaning of baptismssymbolism when He said that, “he who believes and is baptized willbe saved” (New International Version, Mark 16:16). In this regard,one has to detach himself from all forms of sin into believing thatreal salvation is in believing that actually baptism can save thesoul. Even though they may not practice it thoroughly, Christianityoffers the souls of believers a way into salvation and baptism is theexact route.
Baptismis the process whereby an individual is immersed fully into water, orwhen the same water is poured on their forehead as a symbol ofcleansing in the Catholic Church. In doing so, people believe thatthe water is a symbol of purification of the soul from past mistakesinto a new life. Their past moods and motivations change completely,as they believe the act was undertaken in the presence of God as anemblem of purity and therefore they remain holy even though the realnature of this practice is debated. Other than cleansing, the wateralso represents the life, death of Christ for every believer outthere in a Christian Catholic Foundation (Howell 1)hesuffering of Christ in the hands of a man leading to his death isattached to baptism, and also the life of purity well lived while onearth is demonstrated by taking part in baptism. According to theUnited Church of God, baptism is a symbol of partaking in the death,burial, resurrection and not salvation.
Inthe essay by Geertz, there is that link between reality and thesymbol. In the Catholic life, baptism as a symbol is said to be metwith the reality which is the spiritual purification. In that, as onetakes part in this form of ritual, water in the natural form isunited with the spirit of God to make a divine human being or a savedsoul. But then, this confusion tends to have its limits when onelooks at how Christ talked about an individual being born twice. Thefirst is the one by water and the second is the spiritual birth.Clearly, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit he cannot besaved. Catholics tend to assume that once a person is immersed in awell of water their souls are saved. The symbol of salvation isalways the born of contention for most Catholics. The reality of thisfact is that salvation is purely a spiritual link with the body ofChrist and is not the use of water as is perfectly assumed. A goodexample is the story of Saul and the thief on the cross who weresaved by Christ before they could even take part in the process ofbaptism. Before turning into Paul, Saul was saved by Christ Himselfbecause there was a spiritual link between his and that of Christ andthe same goes for the repentant thief on the cross.
Anothersymbol associated with baptism is that of using a white garment forthe person being baptized. The clothing application in its real sensehas a meaning to Catholics showing putting on the body of Christ.While other churches do not practice this, it indicates a genuinebelief that an individual is pure in the heart and body of Christ.Some people may look at this practice as a mere showpiece of whatChrist was like, but unless an individual accepts a new heart afterbaptism, the whole meaning of baptism lacks any inspiration.
Otherthan that, the sacred schism or holy oil anointed on the forehead ofan individual after being baptized is a symbol of power and authorityfrom God. Once he is cleansed, he is given a new garment, and theperson is offered oil to indicate that God has offered him a newheart and authority to proclaim his goodness. But the real sense ofthis use of oil may also be contentious because oil has nothing to dowith what Christ did after he was baptized.Asmall dove rested on his shoulder and the heavens open up, and avoice from the sky showed how God was pleased with Christ, His son(New International Version, Matt. 3.17).It was a form of officialcommissioning for the proclamation of the Good news of salvation tothe world which occurred after He was baptized by John the Baptist.
Thesymbolic application of water on the forehead of men during baptismis to indicate their first birth of people as Christ had proclaimed.Christ being baptized in the Jordan River helped to sanctify all thewater elements in the world to be used as a form of cleansing to allhuman beings. But then, that in itself is not complete salvation. AsJesus Himself pointed out, one has to be born twice, the flesh and inthe spirit and that is why water is applied. In reality, baptism as asymbol is located in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. AsHe entered inside the water, He had no sin and therefore was onlycleansing all the water in the world so that anyone who is immersedin it, in His presence, becomes born again. In addition, as they comeout of the water, they leave their past mistakes behind as they takepart in the new life and resurrection of Christ. The white garmentand oil have been used sparingly in both old and new testaments toindicate purity, power, and authority given to men by God through Hismessengers.
NewInternational Version . NIV,God’s Justice: The Holy Bible eBook: The flourishing of Creation &The Destruction of Evil.Michigan: Biblica Inc., 2016. Print.
Chernus,Ira. “Religion As A Cultural System: The Theory of CliffordGeertz.” Colorado.edu,(nd).Web. 3 April 2017.
Howell,Kenneth. “Is Baptism Merely a Symbol?” Catholic.com.2017. Web.3 April 2017
UnitedChurch of God. “Baptism Is A Symbol of Our Partaking of The Death,Burial And Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It Cannot Save APerson. Look At Luke 23.” Ucg.org.2017. Web. 3 April 2017
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