May 14, 2024 // Perspective

Russell Brand’s Baptism Reveals the Urgent Need for Tradition

I would never have guessed comedian Russell Brand would be defending Christianity on Instagram, but here we are.

The actor’s journey to Christianity led him to share with his millions of followers that he’d chosen to be baptized. And so he was. He “took the plunge” on Sunday, April 28, and was baptized in the River Thames.

“Something occurred in the process of baptism that was incredible, overwhelming,” Brand said, reflecting on the experience in a video posted to his Instagram account. The actor expressed feelings of being “blessed, relieved, nourished,” and “held.”

It doesn’t appear that Brand has become a Catholic, but he has posted videos in which he shares that he has taken up the practice of praying the Rosary.

And that’s the part I love best. Brand is clearly looking for something. He wants an anchor, an ancient practice. Something to ground him today.

In fact, in another video, he says as much. “I know a lot of people are sort of cynical about the increasing interest in Christianity and the return to God, but to me, it’s obvious,” Brand said, explaining to critics why he’s pursuing Christianity. “As meaning deteriorates in the modern world, as our value systems and institutions crumble, all of us become increasingly aware that there is this eerily familiar awakening and beckoning figure that we’ve all known all of our lives, within us and around us. And for me, it’s very exciting.” It’s about finding stability amid the chaos.

It makes me think of that advice from C.S. Lewis about the value of old books. In an introduction Lewis wrote for an edition of St. Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” he says, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” In fact, Lewis goes so far as to say that for most “amateurs,” if they have to choose between reading an old book or reading a new one, they should choose to read an old one. According to Lewis, reading new books without understanding old books is like joining a conversation midway. The new arrival lacks the context to understand the full story.

Lewis’ words resonate profoundly in our present context. They shed light on why many young Catholics are gravitating toward timeless truths and traditional practices. The failure of older generations to effectively pass on the torch has left a void. Many people are finding themselves adrift, like Brand, and looking for something solid.

Having received nothing compelling from their forebears, younger cohorts seek out these treasures independently. So, it’s no surprise they look to old books and, with like-minded peers, try to understand them.

That’s part of what the Associated Press reporter, Tim Sullivan, observed in a recent article, “A Step Back in Time.” In the article, Sullivan writes: “Across the U.S., the Catholic Church is undergoing an immense shift. Generations of Catholics who embraced the modernizing tide sparked in the 1960s by Vatican II are increasingly giving way to religious conservatives who believe the Church has been twisted by change.” Sullivan’s article rightly chronicles the change. But he fails to grapple with its deeper causes.

One reason is that young people today simply need to enter the conversation from the beginning. We need to learn Christianity from the bottom up. We need old books.

In this age of rapid change and shifting paradigms, the call to embrace tradition is not a retreat into the past but a reaffirmation of our identity and purpose. It is light, guiding us through darkness.

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is Editor of Our Sunday Visitor.

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