Baptism (Fully Realized) as the Resolution to Pedophilia and Sexual Abuse

The violence of “Christian” pedophiles, sexual abusers, and whore-mongers – or to state it differently the characteristic forms of perversion found in Roman Catholicism, evangelicalism, and fundamentalism, respectively – on Walter Benjamin’s scale of violence (per his “Critique of Violence”) amounts to “law-maintaining” violence. That is, these systems consistently churn out characteristic forms of sexual transgression as part of the necessity of maintaining the status quo of these forms of belief and their institutional structures. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is obvious that these systems structure desire, through law or doctrine, in such a way that the transgression supports the desire and the belief attached to it. Fundamentalism gives us a steady flow of Jim Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggarts, and evangelicalism churns out its endless Bill Hybels, in the same way that Roman Catholicism seems to manufacture pedophiles. By not coming to grips with the characteristic nature of sin these systems reconstitute it. To state succinctly (what I expand upon below), the object of desire is that which is relinquished or lost and this loss is definitive of the identity produced. This identity produces a split within the body (the self or soma) such that the law of the mind (be it that of Roman Catholicism or of fundamentalism) is established through the transgression of the flesh.  The law always has its transgressive support – doing a particular form of evil so as to produce a particular form of the good. This is Paul’s definition of sin – which indicates that these forms of faith may perpetuate, rather than identify and dispel, sin.

In Corinthians, Paul confronts the various sexual perversions (a man living with his father’s wife, Christians visiting prostitutes, divorce, etc.) by suggesting that they recognize that there are two notions of the body and two forms of identity in regard to the body and desire. The Corinthians might choose to join themselves to prostitutes, perhaps in the spirit of Aphrodite, the goddess of love whose temple is located in Corinth, or they might join themselves to Christ. What they do with their bodies is determinative of the sort of faith they have and the sort of temple in which they worship. To imagine that one could join himself to a prostitute and remain joined to Christ is a contradiction, in Paul’s estimate: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 6:19). The way your joined to the one necessarily obstructs being joined to the other – one cannot worship idols (e.g. Aphrodite) and Christ. The problem they are having is the same problem that the modern-day pedophiles and fornicators have. They imagine they can have sexual relations which are not connected to spiritual relations. Or perhaps, for them “there is no sexual relationship” – in that relationship is of the mind (the spirit, the religion) and sex is of the body. The two cannot be coordinated and need not be coordinated in this failed notion of what a Subject might be. The problem is a tendency to be dis-incarnate – continually absenting the self from the body.

To say that this is a body problem, which it is, may be misleading as the Greek term translated body (soma), conveys a full notion of personhood (the full reality which comes with embodiment) often lacking in the English word. As James Dunn defines soma, “It is man embodied in a particular environment, the body being that which constitutes him a social being, a being who relates to and communicates with his environment.  It is as an embodied entity that he can act upon and be acted upon by his environment.”[1] So soma is a permeable identity within an environment so that its capacity to act and be acted upon constitutes its basic nature.  “It is the means of living in, of experiencing the environment.”[2] In the New Testament, soma is what people are, such that if they are saved this will require the salvation of their bodies (in resurrection and in baptism). Bultmann emphasizes that what is included in the term soma, in addition to the body, is a capacity to objectify or split the self (to reflect on the self). It is also from this apparent duality that the Gnostic understanding can be accounted for, as the physical body is assigned the role of “not-I.”[3] I am not my body but I have a body – it is mine. This experience between the “I” and the “not-I” typifies the dynamic of alienation constituting the soma.

That body which one might think can be reduced to the biological dimension is refused: the “subject turns away from her biological body in disgust, unable to accept that she ‘is’ her body.”[4] It is Paul’s notion of flesh (σάρξ) which seems to represent this second self in its objectification.  The flesh is “a power that lays claim to him and determines him” to such an extent that one’s will (located in soma) is relinquished to this seemingly alien force. The passage is from being a body to establishing a symbolic distance from the body. There is a rejection of the body and a desire for self, displaced upon the prosthetic of the other.

The Cartesian “I think therefore I am,” or simply the child’s realization of a minimal difference within the self gets at this universal condition.  (At around age four I hit upon the formula “I am me,” which at once contains a sense of reflexive satisfaction which seemed to contain all of the truth about who I was). Every child seems to pass through this mirror stage in which we see ourselves (as in a mirror) and it occurs to us that the image is ourselves. But is it really? Is the truth of the self, contained within the self? (Paul will conclude, “you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Co 6:19–20)).

In Paul’s depiction, the soulish minded individual has a stunted interior notion in which the self-conscious ego or “I” is the center of desire (the notion that “soul” is eternal or innately immortal illustrates the point). Freud calls the object of desire the “bodily ego” as the distancing of self from self creates a longing of return to obtain the body (or the image of the body as seen in the mirror).  The ego (ἐγὼ) makes its appearance, according to Paul, in conjunction with a transgressive relationship to the law (in both Genesis 3 and in Paul’s explanation in Romans 7). The “I” or self, as in the case of Narcissus seeing his own reflection, is simultaneously that which is posited as lost and thus desired.  This fits Freud’s original formulation, in which he “discovers” the ego/ superego split at the same time as the death drive.  He pictured the ego as emerging from and still partially situated in the id, and thus the ego is involved in a psychic struggle (The Ego and the Id, 18-19), which Lacan describes as a struggle for existence as it never achieves full reality.  It is a construct or a fiction (imaginary): “Alienation is the imaginary as such” (Seminar III, 146). Paul calls this construct by various names (e.g. the “body of death” or “body of sin”) but the point is that desire or covetousness is centered on the loss or absence involved with “I.” “I” is never fully itself – it must think (“I think therefore I am”), consume, or obtain, with the goal of arriving at the self. Paul depicts this in terms of a sexual desire which cannot be satisfied (Ro. 7:1-2).

Paul speaks of the death of this “I” with no apparent harm to himself but as his salvation: “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2.19-20).  The “I” that can be crucified or put to death in baptism is presumably a construct of sin and a Subject of the law and is not the individual in his true essence.  At the head of the chapter Paul has explained that this Subject of the law is expendable: “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead” (Ro. 7.4).

The joining in Romans, Corinthians, and Ephesians, is explicitly conjoined to human sexuality. One can be like a woman who consorts with a man who is not her husband (Ro. 7:1), or one can join oneself with a prostitute – but this cannot be coordinated with one who is joined to Christ (I Cor. 6:16). Or one can cleave to their wife and the two become one but this is a consummation to be fully realized only between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:29). The joining is directly related to the fusion of bodies – or the completion of the body through Christs body as it occurs in baptism.

The failure of the Subject, the “body of sin” (σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίας), in its self-antagonism and dis-community is a corporeal failure addressed in a corporeal solution. The failure of communication/communion in the failed corporeal identity is remedied by being joined to a new communion. The failed soma is the Subject with the qualifiers of death (“body of death”) and sin (“body of sin”) describing the orientation of the Subject, but to crucify this body, as in baptism, is to suspend or bring to nothing (καταργηθῇ) one form of the body so as to bring about the fullness of the body. To die with Christ in baptism is to be joined to a form which will itself bring about a conformity – ultimately to his resurrection (Rom. 6.5; Philippians 3.10-11, 21). The form of the Subject in Christ displaces the form of the Subject under the law.  “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8.2).  There is a suspension of the law and a reorientation to death: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8.1).  Paul’s victory cry proclaims victory over the forces of evil as they work through the force of law in human life. The “condemnation” (κατάκριμα), or the curse (Rom. 5.16-18; Gal. 3.10; Deut. 27.26) of the Law is suspended.

The punishments of the law of sin and death are inherent to this law as it sets one to desiring that which is unattainable. It is this exponential desire which accounts for child sacrifice (whether that of Baal or of Roman Catholicism). It is this curse that repeats itself in every illicit union and every sacrifice of another human (whether in idolatry or in clergy sexual abuse). In Christ the relationship with God is no longer based on an alienating death.  The “animate force of sin” has been displaced by “life in the Spirit.”  Through the Spirit there is resurrection life and conformity (conjoining) to Christ (Rom. 6.4), rather than the compulsion of sin. The difference this makes pertain precisely to sexual perversion: “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, ‘THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.’ But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Co 6:16–17).  The former amounts to being joined to death and the later to being joined to life, as the Subject of Christ has been joined to the ontological reality of God in Christ.

The body of sin (το σωμα της ἁμαρτιας) has been entombed by means of baptism into death (συνεταφημεν οὐν αὐτῳ δια του βαπτισματος εἰς τον θανατον), but this death is not simply anyone’s or even one’s own as the entombing or burial involves a joining of two bodies in death (συνετάφημεν).  According to Graham Ward, the suspension of the Law does not create an absolute void or a mere absence, rather it creates a liminal condition where bodies can merge.[5]  We were buried together then to him (ἐβαπτίσθημεν οὖν αὐτῷ) through immersion to the particular death that he died (εἰς τὸν θάνατον –into the death).  There is a physical/corporeal/spiritual relationship with Christ which defies Lacan’s notion that the real of the body cannot be coordinated with a relationship of love (Seminar 20, 58).  Being joined to Christ is to pass into an incarnate relationship with one’s own body and the material cosmos such that one can have embodied love relations (which leads to Paul’s depiction of love in the body of Christ in I Cor. 12-13).

As Paul tells both the Corinthians and Romans, realize the truth of your baptism. Baptism is an ontological alternative to the “body of death,” as there is a joining (σύμφυτοι) to Christ’s body as a new Subject. As the American Catholic priest, Joseph Fitzmyer, states it, “Ontologically united with Christ through faith and baptism, Christians must deepen their faith continually to become more and more psychologically aware of that union.”[6]


[1] Dunn, Romans, 320.

[2] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 285.

[3] Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament: Volume I, 199

[4] Slavoj Žižek, Organs without Bodies, 93.

[5] Graham Ward, ‘The Displaced Body of Jesus Christ’, in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, Eds. John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward (London & New York: Routledge, 1999) 164.

[6] Fitzmyer, Romans, 438.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

4 thoughts on “Baptism (Fully Realized) as the Resolution to Pedophilia and Sexual Abuse”

  1. The term that comes to mind is “platonic relationship,” i. e., a relationship with all the bodily satisfactions of sex without it carrying any commitment. The dualism that is rampant in this discussion is also a huge problem with the American Church across the board. As we continually point out in our discussions, Gnosticism.

  2. This article if I understand it correctly puts a lot of things I have been wrestling with into a proper perspective. The great lie of Christian practice today is the dualistic idea of thinking our body is separate to our spirit. Hence our spirit is what matters and our body is simply a evil vessel that one simply discards of at death. Yet if this old gnostic belief was true there would be no reason for Paul to warn us of joining with a prostitute or even worrying about what we do sexually with our body. Going further it is why most see going to heaven as the reward rather than the Resurrection of the body. Hopefully I am on the right track here.

    1. Yes, in a Lacanian theory which I think is reflective of Paul, we feel ourselves removed from ourselves or from our own body to the point that we do not have access to the fundamental reality about ourselves. While Christ is incarnate we would tend in the opposite direction toward the disincarnate.

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