Roger Williams, that famous thinker, leader and far-sighted founder of Rhode Island, was laid to rest in the year 1683, buried beneath a young apple tree in his garden. One day in 1936 the local government decreed that he should be dug up, exhumed and interred in a suitable monument to mark the state’s tercentenary.
There was only one catch. When the coffin was opened there were virtually no remains to re-bury.
What had apparently happened was that a tree root from the apple tree had wormed under the lid of the casket and penetrated the skull. The root then began to absorb the body material – and from there grew down through the remains, the scavenging roots even branching to leave the shape of the two legs as they once had been. The decaying flesh, the organs, the skin and even the minerals from the bones were all absorbed until at last only tiny fragments remained.
And what then? Well it was a fruit tree after all, and gradually, inexorably all those body parts and chemicals became part of the structure of the tree, and of course, in turn, the apples.
No doubt the children of the village picked the apples and presumably over time, some of those absorbed bits of Roger Williams might have moderated how some of their DNA worked and finished up altering part of those children, and maybe, in a best case scenario, even imbuing them with at least the chance of a little of his intellect and his leadership ability.
Yet isn’t this is a theological dilemma?
When the last trump sounds and we are all called to stand before the great Judge, how much of us is us? I know you are all thinking, there is a bit of Shakespeare in me but what if it isn’t Shakespeare or even the afore-mentioned Roger Williams? Many of our borrowed DNA characteristics have far more direct influence than moderation of behaviour by traces of chemicals in our environment. Our parents, grandparents and everyone in the family tree can also leave an influence. What if part of us is Attila the Hun? Should we be entirely responsible for all our bad habits if we are really borrowed in part from Lizzie Borden or judged because we are have picked up bits that lead to the liver of an alcoholic or alternately some DNA which produces the equivalent fragments of the sneaky grey matter from some Jack the ripper? Are we really just us?
Modern psychology acknowledges that part of the way we are is a consequence of our environment. Surely part of this environment is outside our control. The person who put lead in your environment is not necessarily you. But lead influences your behaviour. The parent or wicked uncle who imposed their behaviour which in turn distorted your childhood to make you a frightened or violent adult is an influence – but should you be judged on the outcome?
Then there are the serious matters of ownership.
If some now deceased yokel who picked an apple incorporated a part of Roger Williams, or simply finished with a malfunctioning liver based on a pattern inherent in a parent’s DNA, is that part of him only on loan and must he stand before his maker with more holes than Swiss cheese? The local Bunnings Hardware franchise markets a product called No More Gaps but I am yet to encounter a scripture or sermon that points me to a Celestial equivalent.
I think the answer is plain. Get a good lawyer while there is still time, and if all else fails you can at least claim quite truthfully it wasn’t you.