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WARNING: This Post Contains Spoilers for BioShock Infinite
Sin and debt take on the same meaning in Bioshock Infinite as in Mathew of the New Testament where the Greek word for debt is used to refer to sin as well. It is Booker’s “debt” or burden of guilt that drives him to seek baptism after he commits the grievous sin of mass murder at the massacre of Wounded Knee. Booker hopes that through baptism he may place all his debt onto Jesus Christ to get rid of it, but finds he cannot let go of his debt. Unlike Booker, Comstock goes through the ritual of baptism and believes his debt is paid off. One simple act of faith leads to a new life for Comstock in one universe and the denial of faith keeps the death of Booker’s soul permanent in another. It is in Comstock’s baptism that the forgiveness of sins found in Christianity is challenged because after Comstock is baptized he becomes a psychotic maniac. To understand Booker’s transformation into Comstock the meaning of baptism must be understood.
Through baptism, Christians share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity believes that through baptism, sins or the debt that is incurred by sin are destroyed alongside Christ’s death. That means sin as well as the guilt that is incurred with sin are banished from the person that is baptized. Comstock had faith in baptism and found redemption, but his sincerity in repenting is called into question by the ideals he took on afterwards.
In every religion repenting from past mistakes is vital to finding true forgiveness. Comstock blurs the line between repenting from sin and justifying sin. Comstock justified his massacre of the Sioux by embracing American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy. In one of the recordings of Comstock, he compares the cruel treatment of minorities to punishment for the sake of obedience. In Comstock’s mind the massacre at Wounded Knee was justified since it was divine punishment from God to put the Indians in their place and even glorifies his deeds by presenting the battle in the Hall of Heroes. Whether Comstock ever repented is difficult to say. In Infinite he shows remorse for the man he used to be yet he goes on to justify every cruelty he commits in Columbia as an act of love. By going through baptism Comstock took the easy way out to relieving his guilt, which casts the forgiveness found in Christianity as a quick and easy scheme. Comstock did not find true redemption in his Baptism, but Booker does in his death and resurrection by drowning.
It is important to bring Booker’s death and resurrection into context; all of them. The first case of Booker dying is found within the gameplay of Infinite when Booker dies in combat. Upon dying the player finds Booker in his apartment. Booker shares his regret with the apartment he has lived in for twenty years much like the tomb of Christ is where humanities sins were buried alongside him. Christ’s resurrection and emergence from the tomb is similar to Booker’s emergence from his apartment in order to get back into the game. Booker’s death within the story happens three times and each time his death and resurrection brings on radical change similar to how Christ’s death changed the world. The first case of death and resurrection occurs upon the birth of Comstock. The baptism kills the old Booker and gives life to the new Booker, Comstock. The second case happens when Booker and Elizabeth travel to the universe where Booker has died as a martyr for the Vox Populi cause. In this universe, Booker’s death helps fuel the rebellion that Booker and Elizabeth must fight through. Booker’s presence in this universe counts as Booker’s second resurrection. The final death and resurrection happens in the end game where Elizabeth drowns Booker to prevent Comstock from ever being born and ensuring Elizabeth never destroys New York. By killing Booker the sins of Comstock and Elizabeth are erased. All the sins of Infinite are placed into Booker and are killed off with his death. Like Christ, Booker is resurrected at the end of the credits and he is redeemed since it is presumed that Booker never sold his daughter.
It is common in baptism to immerse or pour water onto a person three times in imitation of the three days Jesus laid in the tomb. So it is no coincidence that Booker gets submerged in water three times in Infinite. Booker first gets baptized at the entrance of Columbia and a second time when he falls into Battleship Bay’s waters. It is not until Booker’s final baptism that he finds redemption through death just as the world was forgiven for its sins through Christ’s death. Only Booker finds forgiveness in his baptism, unlike Comstock who only justified his sins.
The act of forgiveness is supposed to be redeeming, as if a great debt has been paid off. Infinite uses the Christian symbolism of baptism to represent a new life, free from past sins. Booker is skeptical of the forgiveness found in baptism because he cannot get rid of his guilt for massacring innocents at the battle of Wounded Knee. Infinite asks the player to be skeptical too, because guilt and sin are part of our humanity. Our past mistakes are what defines us and ridding the world of all sin and vice would mean uprooting a lot of good that comes along with it. Slate knew the relation between sin and humanity when he asked Booker, “if you take away all the parts of Booker DeWitt you tried to erase, what’s left?” Slate already had an answer for Dewitt. By scrubbing away the soul, what is left is an automaton, a tin soldier. That is Slate’s extreme take on what Booker tried to do when he went to the baptism ceremony and should not be mistaken for Infinites final opinion on the matter. The final opinion on forgiveness is left to the gamer as the story of Comstock and Booker unfolds. Comstock cleaned himself of guilt, but wiped out his sense of regret with it as well. Don’t think for a second that Infinite is trying to invalidate those who do find forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Unlike Comstock, Booker does find redemption through baptism, but only after facing many trials.
Infinite leaves the gamer with one question at the end. Is it possible to redeem ourselves by placing all our sin and guilt onto one man, or is the forgiveness offered by Christianity a falsely promised quick-fix to ease our guilt?