Understanding Immersion

Written by Drew on January 3rd, 2006

By now everyone has heard the story of Farris Hassan, the 16-year-old who traveled to Iraq alone as part of a self-assigned school project.

Hassan was influenced by writers like John McPhee, who teaches “immersion journalism”–a writer who lives the life of his subject in order to better understand it.

Wanting to put this philosophy into practice, Hassan first hung out at a local mosque, spending an entire night talking politics with a group of Muslim men.

Then, he took things a step further. Using money his parents had given him, he bought a $900 plane ticket and took off from school a week before Christmas vacation started, skipping classes and leaving the country on December 11. He traveled to Kuwait, where he thought he could take a taxi into Baghdad to witness the December 15 parliamentary elections. But the border was closed for the elections, so he stayed with family friends in Lebanon, before flying to Baghdad on Christmas.

The Tuesday after Christmas, Hassan contacted the Associated Press bureau in Baghdad and related his story. This eventually led to his being escorted out of the country and back home, where he is now, safe and sound.

Public opinion on Hassan’s Middle East odyssey is unanimous: it was brave, adventurous, and stupid. Indeed, the boy underestimated the dangers of Iraq and probably thought too highly of his own ability to survive as an “immersion journalist.” If I were his father, I would not let him out of my sight until his high school graduation. But one thing you can say for Hassan: at least he understood the meaning of the word “immersion.”

“Immersion” is a simple concept. It means to dip, plunge, or submerge something in water so as to cover it completely. In a metaphorical sense, it means to engross oneself completely into a study or activity, thus the term “immersion journalism.” Hassan knew that, in order to practice “immersion journalism” on Iraq, he would have to be completely absorbed in his subject. He would have to live among the Iraqis, see their faces with his own eyes, and experience their struggles first-hand.

In religion some have trouble understanding immersion. The word “baptize” was created to avoid it. In Greek, baptizo means “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge” (Thayer). But as English versions of the Bible began to be translated, the Church had ceased immersing believers and opted instead for pouring or sprinkling water over their heads. In fact, infants were subjected to this rite, a circumstance probably responsible for the trend moving away from immersion. Thus, the word “baptize” was transilterated from the Greek baptizo and a new word was fashioned, one meant to include all the water-rituals used by the Church at that time.

The Catholic Church admits that immersion is the purer form of baptism, but allows sprinkling anyway. One source reads, “As the rite for baptizing, either immersion, which is more suitable as a symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, or pouring may lawfully be used.”

Luther’s Catechism, a creed used by Lutherans, reads, “Christ does not specify the mode of baptism. It may be performed in any one of three ways; namely, by sprinkling, pouring or immersion. One mode is just as valid as another.”

The Presbyterian Confession of Faith says, “There are three baptismal modes; immersion is not necessary, but one may be sprinkled or poured” (chapter 30, p. 157).

Spiritual blindness is a terrible condition. Even when easy-to-understand concepts are placed before those afflicted, they cannot ascertain them. “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Mt. 13:13).

Baptism, according to the New Testament, is to be practiced by immersion. That means the subject is completely submerged in water. Without this procedure, the symbol of our Lord’s death, burial and resurrection is destroyed! (Rom. 6:3-4). Why would anyone want to change this beautiful and divinely mandated expression?


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