In a few weeks, I will have the opportunity to experience something truly unique. My bone marrow, the marrow I was born with, will be erased with powerful chemotherapy. We hope that it erases the part of the bone marrow producing IgG plasma cells. That’s where the cancer lives. When my own stem cells are infused back into my blood stream, they miraculously find their way to my burnt-out bone marrow and start the process of constructing new bone marrow from scratch. The replacement, old with new, is so comprehensive that I will have to go through my childhood immunizations all over again when this is done. In other words, my immune system will be born again, thanks to the brilliance of science unraveling the miracle of our bodies.
I was thinking about this concept of being born again or re-creation. Most of us wish that we had a magic wand where we could wave it over something in our life, or our entire being, and it is brand new. How nice that would be.
Some think of the mythological Phoenix bird of Greek mythology. The bird disintegrates, in flames, and then is re-born as a brand-new bird, growing from the ashes. Others think about reincarnation, as described in Saṃsāra philosophy, which has influenced both Hinduism as well as Buddhism.
Christians think of Jesus’s words to the pharisee Nicodemus. Jesus told him that he could not enter Heaven unless he, or anyone, was born again. This became the mantra of the evangelical movement of the 1970s. Billy Carter was the first president to say he had been born again. Since then, the term is not used as much as it was when it was a litmus test of being a real Christian.
But what being born again mean in this Christian context?
I’ve mentioned many times that I became an evangelical in my teen years and was so until my 30s. It is interesting but I just looked up the use of the term “born again” and Tennessee, my home state, is number one in the use of that term, followed by Idaho. I want to describe how we meant it.
The brand of evangelicalism that I ascribed to was deeply influenced by Platonic-dualistic philosophy. We didn’t know that but accepted our perspective on Christianity as the one, pure Biblical perspective. Platonic-dualism (in the way that I use it here) says that the material world (our bodies, the earth, our brains, the universe) is of no value at best, and pure evil at its worst. The only part of us that has value in that model, is the spiritual part. I won’t go down that rabbit hole because once I got started I could go on and on. But I will say, that perspective had a powerful influence on our view of being “born again.”
As my spiritual leader told me, once I was born again as a new Christian, nothing in my past mattered. Not only did things like guilt supposed to vanish, but bad habits too. I was too young to have had too many bad habits, but I did have some baggage (as we all do), some of it learned, and some of it genetic.
But I want to think of some more extreme examples for a moment, to make this point clear.
Imagine a real sociopath. I don’t mean where we use that term loosely, but a real sociopath. This is someone who can cause great suffering to others and feel no empathy. Here are the classic seven symptoms of a true sociopath:
- Superficial charm and good intelligence.
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking.
- Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations.
- Untruthfulness and insincerity.
- Lack of remorse and shame.
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior.
- Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience.
Now, in our model of being “born again,” we would expect a true sociopath to become a caring saint at the moment they were “born again,” or became a Christian. In the Platonic-dualistic (nothing to do with the Bible) model, the brain would have no meaning. We would, and did, laugh at the notion that mental illness, including personality disorders like being a sociopath, had genetic or brain errors. This applied to the more common disorders of depression and anxiety as well. We simply believed that people who were assholes were so because of sin. If they repented, or were born again, they would instantly stop being assholes. The same applied to those who were anxious or depressed,
Over my life, I’ve lost count of how many Christians or people in general, who were brutally hurt by “good Christians” who were sociopathic or psychopathic but were also con artist (as most people with these personality disorders are).
In another example, if someone had served time as a child molester and then became “born again,” it would be idiotic to allow them to baby sit your small children. I’ve seen that happen when people work from the idea that they were a “new person” having been born again.
But what does this idea mean? It means that we carry with us the same genes we were born with, the same tendencies to cause mischief and we must guard against those things, even if we are so-call born again.
But I think this great metaphysical erasing called being born all over, the born again that Jesus was talking about, is the total removal of the shame, which is connected to our previous behaviors. In a more modern term, it is the process of “letting it go.”
I knew of a mother who backed her truck over her toddler and killed him. She suffered, as you would expect, from an overwhelming feeling of guilt and self-criticism. She must have asked herself a million times, “Why didn’t I look behind the truck one more time?” I knew a father who did the same thing, but with a riding lawnmower. I can’t imagine the emotional state that those people must have entered. But being born again for them is erasing the sense of cause and effect, the guilt, and the perpetual self-criticism. At that moment all “what if’s,” must end. This is the true spiritual state of being born again. This is the celestial release of malignant guilt.
I hope to start with a new slate of bone marrow, one without or very little cancer. It will be a brutal process, but on the other side I hope to be physical born again, with the nasty genetic mutation gone forever. If I survive the process, and it works, what a privilege that will be.