Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cleanliness vs. godliness

Remember the old saw that cleanliness is next to godliness? Many a child in religious households was given that as a reason to bathe thoroughly and keep the house tidy. (The No. 1 reason, of course, was usually "Because I said so.")

The connection between cleanliness and godliness runs deep in religion itself. Purity often becomes the goal ... purity in doctrine, in rules, in behavior. The result is exclusion as the impure are cast out, kept out or silenced. Order -- liturgical tidiness -- becames more important than breathing fresh life into the old stories of faith.

But research is beginning to show that too much cleanliness in our physical lives may actually harm our health. When our immune systems don't have germs to fight, they turn on us. The result of all those well-scrubbed countertops and antibacterial soaps: an increase in allergies and auto-immune diseases.

A similar thing happens in our faith communities. Too much emphasis on purity and too much insistence on order make us turn on one another. The health of the body fails as love becomes secondary to nit-picking, blame-throwing and turf-guarding. We wield the antiseptic wipe of self-righteous judgment.

Maybe a little messiness would bring us closer to godliness after all.


Iztok said...

Haha! I like the "Because I said so!" Too bad I can't use it w/o breaking teachings of my parents. And since that is a good teaching I try not to break it.

In any case, cleanliness seems to be an interesting thing. We are working with a 16 year old that wasn't used to wash every day that she needs to go out. So she would not shower every day or was her hair. Things changed when boyfriend came into the picture. She now takes regular showers and fixes her hair daily. Even puts make-up on. Since new boyfriend is at her school now she even can't wait to go to school. This long holiday weekend seemed to be particularly hard on her since she didn't see him since Thursday. So come Wednesday morning it will be very easy to get her up and ready for school (she and my wife wouldn't even go to church this past Sunday - which means I didn't have to go either).

What I wanted to say is that I guess it is a matter of motivation and priority.

D.J. said...

Ah, yes, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” that wonderful passage of Scripture. I think it’s in 2 Assumptions, isn’t it? :)

Seriously, though, can one put too much emphasis on purity? Jesus didn’t seem to think so…

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” – Matthew 18:8-9

Sure, self-righteousness is a problem today. It was when Jesus walked the earth as well (see the Pharisees). Yet Jesus never said, “Guys, this sin stuff is really not that big of a deal.” He commanded us to a radical purity, to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” He also commanded us to a radical love, to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” The way to combat self-righteous judgment isn’t to put less of an emphasis on holiness, but to follow the admonition of Galatians 6:1…

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1

The cure for self-righteousness is the realization, “There but for the grace of God go I.” If we want to combat self-righteousness in our churches, less of an emphasis on sin isn’t the answer. Combining purity with love is. This is not a one-or-the-other situation. We have to have both.

Soli Deo Gloria

Iztok said...

I agree with Jane. I honestly think that when we see more and more women in position of power in church and religion in general we will see faster turnaround towards helping and caring towards others instead of various abuses and threats with hell.

I think that ever since women are no longer reduced to a baby factory and ave greater and more important role in family life we see improvements in our society.

Jane, despite that I disagree in certain views I still think we need more women like you in public (not only in newspapers, tv, radio, but also in lead roles in churches). I don't agree with 1 Peter 3:1, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Colossians 3:18, Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, 1 Corinthians 11:3, and Genesis 3:16 they are bad examples on how one should treat women and certainly we have higher moral secular standards in this country.

Anonymous said...

Jane Many of us would like a CASINO right here in Charlotte near the Downtown area; We know that the Religious sect wasnt to fond of the lottery here. We think that a Casino would help perculate three billion dollars into hotel and food business , not t mention tax base; Would you create a blog asking People to voice their opinion on a Casino here in CHARLOTTE.

Nick Bowen said...

The problem is that we insist on purity in others rather than in ourselves. Isaiah (chapter 58) denotes God's chosen fast - in verse 9 he says to take away the putting forth of the finger, i.e., pointing at others. Every time you point a finger at someone else, there are 3 fingers pointing back at you.

Jesus admonishes us to take the beam out of our own eye before we work on the speck in our brother's eye.

The beauty of the Gospel - well, on e of many - is that it allows us to look in our own hearts and deal with the problems we see there.

Anonymous said...

Jane -"... the antiseptic wipe of self-righteous judgment."

I judge people a lot. If Al Gore really cared about global warming he wouldn't live in a mansion. I feel the same way about John Edwards. Bill Gates doesn't really love people because he's keeping billions for himself even though he gives billions to the poor. If you drive an SUV, RV, pull a trailer, live in a house larger than 1000 sqft or fly to a vacation destination, you don't really care about global warming no matter how many light bulbs you replace. I don't think I'm anymore of an environmentalist or loving, just more honest; which, I suppose, makes me self-righteous.

I'm an all or nothing kind of person. If I cared for one kid I'd have to care for them all. I'd be living in one room, eating rice and beans. I don't want that, so I let my wife do the charity. If I really cared about global warming, I'd have to tell everyone I know that they aren't doing enough. Instead of wishing a friend a fun vacation, I'd have to tell him he's wrong to be polluting the atmosphere with jet exhaust. I don't want to do that.

I'm tired of judging. In order to stop having negative feelings about people, I'm trying to stop caring about the environment and poverty. It's not that hard to do since I really don't care any more than anyone else really does :). For me and the people in my life, I think this is best.

I'm glad others are doing something. Thanks. You're making the world a better place.

Anonymous said...

Jane - "Purity often becomes the goal ... purity in doctrine, in rules, in behavior."

One reason I am no longer a Christian is because I let doctrine and the stuff you're supposed to believe in go. They didn't make sense to me. So I said to God, "I don't know where or who you are, but you are the most wonderful thing in the Universe." All that's left is, "I love you."

Iztok said...

I wonder what do you think about an article titled Police: Girl Dies After Parents Pray for Healing Instead of Seeking Medical Help?

I am especially disturbed with the following: "The girl's parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to "apparently they didn't have enough faith," the police chief said."

Was it lack of faith or too much of it?

Laura said...

When he was criticizing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Jesus said, "not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." Matt 15:11

Do we recognize ourselves in this statement: "The health of the body fails as love becomes secondary to nit-picking, blame-throwing and turf-guarding."

It would be a refreshing change to have all participants genuinely try to understand each others' positions (and learn something new!), rather than staunchly defending their own as if they were the only ones in possession of the Truth.

Remember, it's called "Sacred" Space.

Anonymous said...

Press towards the mark of Melchizadek

see Hebrews 5-6 and the Psalms especially

I think the key to this doctrine is that we focus on ourselves rather than judge the results of others.

God wants sons (and daughters) that want fellowship with him. He wants us to love others as ourselves. First we must love God so much that we are continually repreessing our will to let his will be done.

God will spend eternity with those that want to spend eternity with him.

I think Jane's blog focuses on a fact, i.e. we learn from our failures.

The main point I would add is that we not give up when we fail. We must return to our Lord and press on.

more later

Anonymous said...

I would add this comment as to "cleanliness", which lesson I have seen in many of my clients (I am a lawyer that has specialized in criminal defense law) and in many great old black and white movies.

You can tell when many people have given up by the level of attention they give to their own grooming.

Anonymous said...


I am in awe of your wisdom.

Anonymous said...


Women as baby factories? How about women as the agents of civilization. Both the civilizing of men generally and of the next generation.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I respect you comments so much here that I will call you by name. (but man, can't you do better than that on nomenclature?)

more later

Anonymous said...



Iztok said...

Gamecock?? I am confused. I said since women are no longer reduced to baby factories.

Anonymous said...

Women never were "reduced" to baby factories. They were the agents of civilization in taming men and they turned wild animals, i.e. their children, into future good citizens.

Iztok said...

Gamecock, have a look at these two videos:


What she thinks her role is? "Hopefully to be nurturing and loving and submissive to my husband."

"He (as her husband) makes the final decision."

We've seen such things in many still theocratic countries. Remember role of women under Taliban regime?

Anonymous said...


Sounds like two loving consenting adults.

I didn't see any chains on her. Sounds exactly like the kind of thing we've been listening to Iztok stump for month after month after month; that is, what two loving consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes is their own business.

But Iztok's not supportive of that when it goes against his opinions of how the world should be. Does the word hypocritical come to mind?

Iztok said...

Anonymous, issue is wit asymmetrical relationship when role of another adult is clearly and constantly reduced below the other. It is controlling relationship as as such not a healthy one. This goes beyond their bedroom as kids are forced into the same type (boys are treated as leaders and girls as servants).

Iztok said...

Anonymous, let me make this even clearer.

I am not saying that such relationship should be made illegal. If women want to be reduced to such a role, so be it. It is their choice. I agree we shouldn't look into their bedroom. Am I making a judgment? Sure I do but that doesn't mean I want to make such thing illegal. I am however concerned with level of education their kids are getting, esp. girls.

I am concerned for the ability of female children to get the opportunity other kids would get (from other families and also male kids in the same family). I think most of you should be too. I've heard many times that if we allow homosexuals to get married then we have concerns about kids etc. From my experience (observing two moms raising an adoptive boy and comparing with what I've seen about this particular family featured on the video) I would rather see kids raised by homosexuals then this kind of families. At least homosexuals are usually more open and don't discriminate kids based on gender.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, Iztok, what value system a mother and father decide to instill in their children is none of our (or government's) business.

Homosexuals should not be permitted to adopt -- period. Adoption is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. If a homosexual couple brings their own children into the relationship, though, their existing parental rights trump all else -- regardless of the effect on the children.

Iztok said...

"Homosexuals should not be permitted to adopt -- period."

Why is that?

There is over ten thousand kids in custody of DSS in NC alone! They do have right to have loving parents. Apparently there are not enough Bible thumping Christians in this state to adopt. So why not allow homosexuals to provide loving and nurturing environment for these kids?

Let me ask you. Do you agree with the way that particular family treats children in respect to gender (that they treat girls differently then boys and don't support girls having the same opportunities as boys)?