Posts Tagged ‘clean vs. unclean’

Score one for the mixed breeds

September 14th, 2010 No comments

Mixed, even at the species level.

But because species hybrids create new combinations of genes, it is possible that some combinations might enable hybrids to adapt to conditions in which neither parent may fare as well. Several such examples are now known from nature. Furthermore, DNA analysis is now allowing biologists to better decipher the histories of species and to detect past hybridization events that have contributed new genes and capabilities to various kinds of organisms including, it now appears, ourselves.

and here’s a nice turn of phrase …

Various kinds of evidence indicate that modern humans migrated out of Africa and reached the Middle East more than 100,000 years ago and Europe by about 45,000 years ago, and would have or could have encountered Neanderthals for some time in each locale. The crucial question for paleontology, archaeology, and paleogenetics has been what transpired between the two species. To put it a little more crudely, did we date them or kill them, or perhaps both?

That just gives a whole new level to the notion of  “fear and self-loathing” doesn’t it?  ;->

And finally  …

The discovery of hybrid species and the detection of past hybridizations are forcing biologists to reshape their picture of species as independent units. The barriers between species are not necessarily vast, unbridgeable chasms; sometimes they get crossed with marvelous results.

Cleaner than you = Better than you

September 1st, 2010 No comments

This series of studies has interesting implications written all over it.  Granted OT clean/unclean doesn’t perfectly line up with contemporary notions but still, there is some overlap.  Sugar, sugar – white, clean, and neat

A new study shows that people feel morally cleansed when they are physically clean, and as such are more inclined to judge others more harshly.

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This also hooks into the notions of dirty = animal, in some sad but not un-expected ways.  Sad in terms of how some humans can think of the fact that an animal is “dirty” (as in physical contact with literal dirt) and have that as part of the constellation of their justifications for morally denigrating them and even killing and harming them unnecessarily, or worse yet, for fun.  We claim on the one hand to not ‘be’ animals but then somehow pass judgement on “them” as if they were somehow accountable to our standards of cleanliness or personal hygiene.  On what grounds would that possibly make sense?  It’s even weirder given the fact that our own book of origins includes the little tidbit about man being made from dirt.

“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7 NRSV)

Did you know people used to use urine as a tooth whitener?*

* Mark Morton, “A linguistic history of things other than food that people have put into their mouths,”  Gastronomica 9 (2009): 6.

silly humans.  dust to dust …

Mapping Impurity and Sin

November 2nd, 2009 No comments

According to Jonathan Klawans, there are two overlapping systems of defilement that are developed through the OT.  The language of ritual impurity and the language of sin (moral impurity).  Being able to see the structural similarities between the two systems is incredibly helpful so I made this little diagram based off Klawans’ work in his book “Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism”.  This doesn’t cover the food laws because they live in their own little world.    I’m working on a detail chart of the ‘how do you get rid of it’ section because that’s where all the action is.

Read more…

The Fig Tree and The Limbic Brain

July 25th, 2009 No comments

This is an interesting take on the human act of worship, it’s function, and how it is manipulated by human power structures (be it the church, or the government). It also seems like a tangential nod to Durkheim’s sociological concept of ‘collective effervescence’. The examples of “Nuremberg” and “unNuremberg” labels are interesting and seem to reflect not just worship styles but approximate the polarity between fundamentalist religion and non-fundamentalist religion … with purity,danger, and a fear-based need to either completely dominate or otherwise eliminate ‘otherness’ at one end and the ability to see that very dynamic and at work and step back from it at the other.

My favorite line is this … (in Nuremberg) “The faithful had to be made ready to do things, or acquiesce in things, with which calm and unenthusiastic people might disagree.” This gets to the very heart of what we do out of fear, when we’re in pure limbic mode, in groups … whether in the context of the politics of religion or the religion of politics. Guilt & Fear -> Blame -> Mob Frenzy directed at Marginalized Victim -> Scapegoating Violence. Hello fig tree.

The notion of “unNuremberg” worship as being that which allows us to “… stumble out of the rally, and walk away, being amazed at what it is we have been bound up in, and shocked at what we have done, or might have done as a result of where we were going” reminds me of this discussion about the ability to engage in meta-cognition and how being closer to the fundamentalist end of the spectrum seems like it might correlate with an inability or unwillingness to “stumble out of the rally” of the limbic brain. … Let me make sure I acknowledge that there are likely natural individual predispositions toward one end or the other but I think it’s primarily something that gets imposed by the framework you’re in. I think people can, to a large degree, be taught to worship one way or the other.  Therein lies the greater responsibility of leadership.  Be careful what you teach.

Food Laws

October 28th, 2008 No comments

So, the concept of clean vs. unclean in terms of the temple (ritual purity) was one thing but the food laws have to be examined on their own.  Ritual purity was about what is acceptable to come into contact with the temple apparatus (the structure, the priests, etc.) It was literally about the ideas that there are some kinds of physical contagion by which the temple could be sullied and about the cleansing, washing, disinfecting procedures thought to remedy it.  It’s not the same as “sin”.   The food laws don’t exactly follow because the reasoning for the various distinctions are not apparent nor were they ever explained, their meaning is assumed to be understood.  Here’s an excerpt from the “New Bible Dictionary” under the topic of Clean and Unclean as it relates to the food laws in the OT and how it changed in the NT.

The standard Jewish explanation is that the classification is arbitrary: they test obedience. Will you obey God, even if you cannot understand his reasons? Or is the aim to promote health? Pork, shellfish, and so on, often carry disease. There is nothing in the laws to suggest it. Some items classified as unclean are healthy foods, and vice versa. Nor does this explanation warrant Jesus’ abolition of the food laws. Would he have wanted his disciples to eat unhealthy foods? Another scholarly explanation is that some of the unclean animals (e.g. pigs) were used in pagan worship. But the premier clean sacrificial beast in Israel, the bull, [211] was also highly valued in Egyptian and Canaanite religion, so reaction to foreign practice does not explain these rules.


Once again Mary Douglas has put forward the most plausible type of explanation. She noted that the cleanness rules structure the bird, animal and human realms in a similar way (see above).

The realms of birds and beasts both contain a mixture of clean and unclean species. The clean may be eaten, the unclean may not. Within the clean group there is a subgroup of animals or birds that may also be sacrified (e.g. sheep, pigeons). This threefold division of the bird and animal kingdoms corresponds to the divisions among human beings. Mankind falls into two main groups, Israel and the Gentiles. Within Israel only one group, the priests may approach the altar to offer sacrifice. This matches the law’s understanding of sacred space. Outside the camp is the abode of Gentiles and unclean Israelites. Ordinary Israelites dwell inside the camp, but only priests may approach the altar or enter the tabernacle tent.

These distinctions served to remind Israel of her special status as God’s chosen people. The food laws not only reminded Israel of her distinctive-ness, but they also served to enforce it. Jews faithful to these laws would tend to avoid Gentile company, in case they were offered unclean food to eat (cf. Dn. 1:8–16).

God is identified with life and holiness, and un-cleanness is associated with death and opposition to God. The food laws symbolize that Israel is God’s people, called to enjoy his life, while Gentile idolaters are by and large opposed to him and his people, and face death. The food laws also underline respect for life directly as well as symbolically. Eating meat is described as a concession in Gn. 9:1–4. And it may only be eaten if the blood is drained out first, ‘for the life is … the blood’ (Lv. 17:11). Therefore, consumption of the life liquid is banned. Wanton slaughter of living creatures is also discouraged by the limited number of animals classified as clean. In both ways, these food laws tended to promote respect for life.

The OT food laws reminded the Jews of their special status as the one people chosen by God. The clean (edible) creatures symbolized Israel, whereas the unclean (prohibited) foods symbolized the Gentile nations. But the church is open to people of all nations, not just Jews, so it is inappropriate for the food laws to be maintained. In Mt. 15:16–17 and Mk. 7:18–19, Jesus’ critique of the food laws is immediately followed by the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman (describing herself as a dog, i.e. unclean), whose daughter, possessed by an unclean spirit, was healed by Jesus (Mt. 15:21–28; Mk. 7:24–30).

Jesus’ ministry and teaching thus laid the foundation for outreach to the Gentiles and the abolition of the food laws, but in Acts 10 the decisive step is taken. Peter has a vision in which a heavenly voice commands him to kill and eat unclean [212] animals. He responds: ‘Surely not. Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ Men sent by Cornelius, a Roman centurion, come asking for Peter to visit him. When he arrives at the house of Cornelius, Peter explains why he has come: ‘It is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean’ (Acts 10:14, 28). The significance of this Cornelius episode is underlined by Luke recounting it three times in Acts 10, 11 and 15. The Jerusalem council confirmed that it was right to include Gentiles within the church and simultaneously to abrogate the main food laws. The only uncleanness regulations they imposed concerned idolatry, sexual immorality and blood, which were the worst types of uncleanness in the OT (Acts 15:20). Paul takes it for granted that the other food laws no longer apply to Christians (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:8; 1 Tim. 4:3–5).

So again, it’s the conceptual framework, which is about access to God, that is being abolished.  The case for contemporary ethical vegetarianism simply isn’t an issue that’s addressed directly in the bible and therefore not something that contemporary Christianity can legitimately discount as if the matter has already been settled.  I’m not saying it’s requisite, just that it’s a topic worthy of honest and thoughtful discussion.

All Foods are Clean

October 22nd, 2008 No comments

Mark 7:17-23 (Mt 15:16-20) is probably the biggest source of misunderstanding when trying to discuss the merits of ethical vegetarianism within a Christian context.  This is tricky because we don’t have the same framework today in which to put the concepts of Clean /Unclean as they exist in the Pentateuch.   Here’s a simplified way of looking at it, from the Dictionary of New Testament Background’s entry on Purity …

… Jesus took the opportunity to explain to the crowds that the true nature of ‘contamination’ is not ritual but moral, and it springs from within not from without, as the Pharisees taught. This seems so obvious to us today that we cannot see why the disciples could not understand it. They, like most Jews of their time, thought of sin as a sort of germ, an infection caught by contact with others outside. (This is roughly the Confucian view, shared by most non–Christian religions.) Jesus taught that sin was like a cancer, growing within us, Jew and non–Jew alike. That is far harder to deal with, for we cannot avoid it by avoiding ‘infection’ from others; it needs radical spiritual surgery that will change our inner nature. That is what John meant by saying that the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we associate ‘baptism with the Spirit’ solely with spiritual gifts; the Bible associates it more often with a changed nature.

Jesus drove home the absurdity of the views of the Pharisees by a commonsense illustration, called a parable here. What goes into the stomach is not going to affect our spiritual lives, but only our digestion, and our digestive processes will deal with it in due course. The view of the Pharisees about defilement was crude and over–literal, like those who think that either the Holy Spirit or demons live somewhere inside our physical bodies and, therefore, look for vomiting as a sign of the expulsion of demons. Jesus showed that the heart (we would say today, the mind) is the source of defilement and gave a sobering list of the awful things that can flow from it.

Much can be discussed exploring all the details and aspects of the purity laws but the simplest statement would be that their concept of ‘clean vs. unclean’ does not translate directly to moral vs. immoral today.  (Women who give birth are declared unclean until they go through the proper process for ritual cleansing, it’s not that birth is immoral.)  I agree that all foods are clean – in the way the term was being used in this context.  There is no physical substance I can put in my mouth that will – in and of itself – make me unacceptable to God.  The phrase “all foods are clean” also doesn’t mean that literally all foods are ‘clean’ the way we use the word today, that all foods are good for us physically, or that there are no moral considerations regarding food today.  If someone found out that a particular maker of XYZ Tasty Cakes depended on slave child labor we could agree that it’s not the physical substance of XYZ Tasty Cakes that makes its consumption immoral.

People often refer me to Paul in Romans 14, apparently trying to show me that Paul would disagree with ethical vegetarianism.  First, Paul wasn’t having a discussion about the merits of ethical vegetarianism but about whether people with different food habits should be judging each other under Christ.  Second, I actually think Paul and I agree completely on a lot of things.   “… I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself “(14:14)  We agree on that.

One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables”.   (14:2)  The first thing that must be cleared up is that Paul is repeating a comment/position of the people he is writing to.  Some modern translations are better at pointing this out than others.  It’s not the case in this instance that Paul is, himself, declaring that those who eat vegetables are weak (physically or spiritually).  Besides, Paul himself is a accused of being weak according to the prevailing notions of ‘strength’ 2 Cor. 10:10.  He’s talking to a culture in which physical strength is intimately tied with their notion of the gods.  He presents a position that has been brought up by his readers and then explains, gently, how that position is to be more accurately understood under the new covenant.  The flow of the rhetoric is You Say blah blah blah, I Say blah blah blah or  you could think of it as “yeah, I see what you’re saying, but ….”  The point that gets missed is that he calls both to not judge the other but his actual dialogue ends up implying that it’s the “strong” who have the behavioral duty to favor (for lack of a better word) the “weak”.   “I’ll never eat meat again if it causes my brother to stumble”, etc.   For a comprehensive analysis consider “The Strong and the Weak“, “The Belly and the Body in Paul“, “The New Creation in Paul’s Letters and Thought“, and “Dangerous Food: 1 Corinthians 8-10 in its Context“.

We do know that in general, Paul was writing to newly founded churches and trying to help new Christians figure out how to get along, how to embrace a new identity as equals under the new covenant under Christ.    In this context the point of this whole discourse is that whatever their food habits were, it shouldn’t come between them.   Not that it’s completely applicable to the context Paul is dealing with but my husband isn’t vegetarian and we’ve shared a table for many years without the kind of judgement I believe Paul is talking about here.  He knows why I’ve made my choices and I know why he’s made his, we respect each others decisions, even where we passionately disagree, and it never comes between us.  Not that it didn’t take relational work.  It did.  It does. But it’s precisely because of the love we have for each other that we are completely free to follow our own consciences and navigate the demands of respecting each others.  And there is navigation that has to take place, in both directions.  Someday I’ll write about that specifically.  But we get it done.  And think that’s what Paul is trying to accomplish.

In context we see that the point of this whole dialogue has to do with judgement and causing strife.  We see from Paul that people with different food habits shouldn’t judge one another.  (there’s so much that needs to really be said about using the contemporary terms ‘judging’ and  ‘food habits’ to describe what that situation was and how it does or does not compare with the issues of ethical vegetarianism, but for now just know that it’s not as simple as it seems)  Whoever the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ were and whatever reasons the latter had for abstaining, we also see from Paul that he places the burden on those who identify themselves as “strong” to not cause the “weak” to stumble.  We also see that cultural ideas about physical appearance, physical strength, the habits of the wealthy and politically powerful,  aren’t what matter to kingdom people.  Again, I completely agree.

The Expositors Bible Commentary on this passage includes this take on the idea of mutual edification …

19-21 The entire church is urged to pursue peace (harmony between the two groups is the immediate application), which alone can provide the atmosphere in which “mutual edification” can take place. It will be recalled that “edification” (oikodome ) was Paul’s key word in dealing with the problems created by the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian situation (1Cor 14:5, 12, 26). Mutual edification implies that the strong, despite their tendency to look down on the weak, may actually learn something from them. It may be that they will come to appreciate loyalty to a tender conscience and begin to search their own hearts to discover that they have cared more about maintaining their position than about loving the weaker brethren. Through the fresh manifestation of love by the strong the weak will be lifted in spirit and renewed in faith and life.

Paul also urges his audience (Rom 12:2) … not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. In simplest terms I’ll say that we know things now that they didn’t know then about other creatures, especially about the ones we consider ‘food animals’.

  • We know that they feel pain, that they have desires, they have physical and emotional needs … not necessarily the same ones that we have but they have their own, the ones God gave them.
  • We know that livestock agriculture contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere worldwide than does transportation.
  • We know that livestock agriculture now takes more from the human food supply than it provides.
  • We also know that vegetarian and vegan diets can be perfectly healthful for all life stages, for infants (breast milk from human mothers, not from cows) as well as professional athletes.  It’s not that we can manage to get by on a balanced vegetarian diet, we know now that we can be healthier on vegetarian and vegan diets than we can consuming animal products.
  • Furthermore, we likely have the technological and agricultural expertise now to grow and feed the world with plant foods.  Las Vegas exists in the desert … all that infrastructure, all that energy, all that water devoted to – well you know, all the things Las Vegas is currently devoted to.  If we repented, admitted our error and changed direction, Las Vegas could be a greenhouse.  Maybe not literally, but you get the point, we have the technology to do it even if we don’t have the will.

So, knowing what we know now, I think discussing the morality of our current conceptual framework around what we call ‘food’ is a perfectly legitimate topic.   When we are so entrenched in our traditions that we can’t see clearly to reconsider them, much less break free of them, we have certainly become “conformed to this world”.   Again from the EBC (Rom 12:2) …

Complementary to the refusal to be conformed to the pattern of this world is the command to be “transformed.” The two processes are viewed as going on all the time, a continual renunciation and renewal. Our pattern here is Christ, who refused Satan’s solicitations in the temptation and was transfigured (metamorphoo —the same word as that translated “transformed”) in his acceptance of the path that led to Calvary (Mark 9:2, 3). As his mission could be summarized in the affirmation that he had come to do the Father’s will John 6:38), the Christian’s service can be reduced to this simple description also. But he must “test and approve,” refusing the norms of conduct employed by the sinful world and reaffirming for himself the spiritual norms befitting the redeemed. Aiding this process is “the renewing of your mind,” which seems to mean that the believer is to keep going back in his thought to the original commitment, reaffirming its necessity and legitimacy in the light of the grace of God extended to him. In this activity the working of the Holy Spirit should no doubt be recognized (cf. Titus 3:5). It appears from the context that the believer is not viewed as ignorant of the will of God, but as needing to avoid blurring its outline by failure to renew the mind continually (cf. Eph 5:8-10). Dedication leads to discernment and discernment to delight in God’s will. That there is an intimate connection between certifying the will of God and making oneself a living sacrifice is indicated by the use of “pleasing” in each case (cf. Philippians 4:18; Heb 13:16).

So again, the issue of morality in food consumption is not limited to the actual physical substance itself.   I have no problems with the position that Jesus and then Paul declared all foods ‘clean’ and whole heartedly agree that it’s our moral compass that God is more interested in.  Which brings me squarely back to my point … what kind of spirit (with a small ‘s’), what kind of morality is involved in knowingly and willingly participating in causing pain and suffering and death when we don’t have to, much less doing it for pleasure?  Who does that?

It’s not that animals and humans are ‘equal’, it’s that in not giving any moral weight to our decisions we relinquish our status as ‘better than animals’,  in doing so we become animals.  One of the derogatory ways the comparison between human and animal behavior is often described in the Bible is in the context of a behavior being criticized as equal to or worse than what would be done by ‘irrational animals’.  We’re the ones making the choices … and we’re supposedly better than that.