“Purity and Danger” by anthropologist Mary Douglas explores tribal culture’s and their hyper emphasis of purity and its relationship to “perceived” danger. The “danger” is usually the fear of contamination by new ideas from beyond the pale of their culture but also from within the culture as deviance from within is always present within any culture that has any dynamic quality.
The hyper emphasis of purity always belies profound insecurity of the tribe, the fear that its values could not withstand any necessary adjustment from the introduction of the “new” or novel. When this threat is on the horizon it is common practice to emphasize strongly the importance of the status quo and to demonize any deviance. This was evidenced in our country about a decade ago when the Tea Party sought to “purify” the Republican Party and began to label as RINA (Republican in Name Only) to anyone who took a view deemed to be inconsistent with the party line.
But today my focus is on the “purity and danger” phenomena is in fundamentalist Christianity, expressed in its inordinate emphasis of protecting the virginity of their young girls. This often includes a ceremony in which the girls father places a purity ring on her finger as she takes a vow of chastity until her marriage. (This makes me think of a quip by H.L. Mencken, “The problem with chastity is its over emphasis of sex.”) However, victims of this abuse are now beginning to report the trauma they experienced and the suffering they experienced as they began to mature beyond the reaches of their conservative faith and explore their sexuality. (See the following link for one report: http://www.foxnews. pcom/lifestyle/2018/09/15/woman-recalls-how-broke-free-evangelical-purity-movement.html) I not here advocating sexual promiscuity or debauchery for anyone, certainly not children. I am bringing to attention the fear of sexuality that is often present in religion and the gross tragedy that often results from having denied that dimension of human experience. Furthermore, my concern with the Christian tradition which provided my spiritual roots is the very much related denial of the whole of the body and its impulses, the fear of losing control as W. H. Auden described in the poem with which I will conclude.
There is “danger” when we fear our body’s impulses and become obsessive with a desire for purity. This cannot help but create impurity which will find expression somewhere whether it be in our own acting out or “rubbing elbows” with the impurity we fear under the ruse of ministering to them. Decades ago there was a fundamentalist evangelist who preached loud and hard about immorality and even set up his office on Bourbon Street in New Orleans where he could preach to the prostitutes and strippers. Eventually he was caught in an alley being serviced by a prostitute.
If…like your father before you, come
Where thought accuses and feeling mocks,
Believe your pain: praise the scorching rocks
For their desiccation of your lust,
Thank the bitter treatment of the tide
For its dissolution of your pride,
That the whirlwind may arrange your will
And the deluge release it to find
The spring in the desert, the fruitful
Island in the sea, where flesh and mind
Are delivered from mistrust.
(W. H. Auden “The Sea and the Mirror)
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