Thursday, October 7, 2010
“So great is the effect of cleanliness upon man, that it extends even to his moral character. Virtue never dwelt long with filth; nor do I believe there ever was a person scrupulously attentive to cleanliness, who was a consummate villain”
- Count Benjamin Thompson Rumford
With such a pompous name and dainty opinion, I’m sure this gentleman was every bit dedicated to the virtuous act of cleansing away his genuine and more often, imagined sins. The dust and dirt of the world must have stained his clean soul leaving him with a lingering feeling of bruised morality until of course, his next bath time. I must admit, I am being a little cruel. Here I am, in my own self-important way poking fun at a long deceased fellow who in his current state is powerless to prove me otherwise.
To be fair, religious texts are ripe with phrases upholding cleanliness as being equal to moral purity. The Quran states that “God loveth the clean”, the Talmud claims that “cleanliness falls into godliness” and the Bible declares that sins can be washed away. Now, I can appreciate metaphorical eloquence (something which I cannot help but note eluded dear Count Benjamin Thompson Rumford) and in no way do I claim that these phrases are literal, but symbolism often rises beyond the descriptive orb.
Take for instance, the Hindu caste system. The ‘Untouchables’ are a group of unfortunate individuals left to dwell outside the caste structure. Although being at the bottom of the caste structure is not particularly appealing, being entirely rejected by it is even worse. The ‘Untouchables’, according to O’Neill from National Geographics are considered impure, dirty and polluted inherently as well as in association with the ‘unclean’ work that they do such as handling blood and excrement. They are excluded from temples for fear that they will pollute the sacred sanctuary and members of the caste system are wary of eating food prepared by an Untouchable or marriage with an Untouchable. It appears that such physical contact may render them morally polluted also. So, dirt and dust may actually carry with them grains of sin. But are dirty people really morally impure? And, are clean people morally pure, or paradoxically, is the opposite true?