I read an article in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine that, for some reason, really caught my attention. It might be because I am the father of three boys and was intimately involved (and still am) in their lives, especially as infants. It might have been because I have baptized nearly 50 babies in my 15 years as a parish pastor, and it might have been because I recently covered the subject of Holy Baptism with a class of people who are interested in Lutheranism and Christianity and joining the fellowship of my church. Maybe it is all of them combined that made me sit up and take notice of the article “The Moral Life of Babies” by Paul Bloom.
I first want to give credit to Paul Bloom for writing an interesting article in a way that kept my attention. It is about research done by psychologist and it has been my experience that such articles can be written in a style that is way over my head (being just a parish preacher). Thank you, Paul Bloom!
The thrust of the article is that the research he cites indicates that babies have a moral compass from birth that is independent of culture and learning. He calls it “naive morality” (Bloom, 49). He contends that babies have an inherent idea of what is right and wrong.
And while Paul Bloom gives a nod to Christianity, “The general argument that critics like Wallace and D’Souza [sympathetic to Christian teaching] put forward, however, still needs to be taken seriously” (Bloom, 63), he also seems to dismiss the Biblical teaching of humans being created and born with a God-given moral compass (conscience, “Law written on the hearts”), “the aspect of morality that we truly marvel at – its generality and universality – is the product of culture, not of biology. There is no need to posit divine intervention” (Bloom, 65).
However, what Paul Bloom reports in this article is something that Lutherans, at least, have believed for nearly 500 years – that infants are born sinful, are in need of what the Sacrament of Holy Baptism offers – the forgiveness of sins, and can understand the basic ideas of right and wrong.
Lutherans have been baptizing infants since their very beginnings in the early 1500’s, continuing what the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church had been doing from the 1st Century AD up to that point.
The Protestant Reformation that the Lutheran Church was born out of also gave birth to the Baptist denomination, which generally does not baptize infants. I’m generalizing here, but I believe this is so because they understand that Baptism is not essential to salvation and that infants can be saved without it.
The Southern Baptist Convention states that Baptism “is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.” (Basic Beliefs, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the SBC website, accessed May, 2010).
Yet, even non-Christian writers and scientists are recognizing that infants are capable of knowing right and wrong. And the Bible clearly teaches that without direct intervention by God, we can only choose the wrong. Jesus said in John 15:5, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
It is recognized that infants can have faith and can believe in God, (for example, look at Luke 1:39-44).
So, why would we not Baptize infants?
God does all the work in Baptism. He created the water. He provides the life-giving words, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross does what is necessary for all to be saved. And we are all conceived and born sinful (Psalm 58:3, Psalm 51:5).
God loves the world (John 3:16) and shows that love through His Son Jesus Christ. And we receive the blessings of His Cross through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Bloom, P. (2010, May 9). The moral life of babies. New York Times Magazine, 44-49, 56, 62-63, 65.