Spiritual Pollution: Sociomoral Disgust and the Ethic of Love

Dear Reader,
A couple of years ago I wandered into Paul Rozin's invited Plenary talk at the American Psychological Association conference. I knew nothing of Rozin's research at the time. I quickly found out he was the world's leading authority on the emotion of disgust and the logic of contagion and contamination. Rozin's talk was funny and informal, but it was also an intellectual tour de force. When I returned to ACU I quickly added lectures on Rozin's research to some of my classes. His work was just too fun and interesting not to discuss. These are now known among my ACU colleagues as my "brownie poop lectures" (you'll need to read the series to understand this).

As I delivered these lectures, I struggled with a way I might make a contribution to this literature. One day at church I heard my friend Mark Love give a talk on the Lord's Supper. Mark made the observation that it is significant that the central symbol of Christian worship is a table. And, when you look at Jesus' ministry, he was notable and notorious for centering his ministry around the table and, specifically, who he allowed to share his table. Mark noted that this is what we, as followers of Jesus, are called to do. We are to welcome people to table. All people.

I left church with one of those high feelings, like "Yes! This is what being a Christian is all about! It's not about making distinctions between Us and Them. It's to wander out into the world and extend the hospitality of Jesus to everyone we meet."

Then depression hit. Because I knew that this idea would not really work in the church. This radical openness to the Other always seems to get undermined in our churches. Why is that?, I mused. After thinking about it, the answer hit me. And it was a simple answer. The same thing that caused the exclusion of people from table fellowship in Jesus' day is the exact same thing that causes the exclusioin today. That is, a group of people is considered to be "unclean" and these people are just not welcome. The reasons for being declared "unclean" might have changed, but the underlying dynamic is still the same.

And I began to realize: The logic of being "unclean," a source of "spiritual pollution," was undermining Jesus' radical call to love. Rozin's research came rushing to mind and things started falling into place. I began to write.

I ultimately produced a paper on those reflections (Beck, R. 2006. Spiritual Pollution: The dilemma of sociomoral disgust and the ethic of love. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 43, 53-65.). Interestingly, Alan Tjeltveit, the editor of the JPT issue the paper was published in, sent a copy of my paper to Paul Rozin for peer review. I know this because Rozin eschewed the traditional anonymous review and revealed his name in order to tell me, personally, how much he had liked and learned from the paper. Later on I e-mailed him and told him the story of how a few years earlier this whole paper started when I wandered into this APA session just to see what disgust research was all about.

As always, I hope you enjoy this series.

Below are what I consider to be the best posts from my Spiritual Pollution series. The posts are a popularization of my scholarly article:

Part 1: Hating the sin but loving the sinner?
Part 2: Brownie poop, cockroaches, and the irrationality of disgust
Part 3: The logic of contamination
Part 4: Sociomoral disgust
Part 5: Love and disgust
Part 6: Holiness and Justice
Part 7: A Metaphorical Interlude
Part 8: Purity Metaphors
Part 9: Sexual Sins
Part 13: Jesus
Part 14: Acts 10

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