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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cleanliness: Next to what?

That great sage, Erma of Suburbia, warned householders that they could not scrub their way to enlightenment.  The following exhortation comes to us directly from the wisdom writings of BombeckCleanliness is not next to godliness.  It isn’t even in the same neighborhood.  No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven [except, perhaps, those who see Jesus within grilled-cheese sandwiches].

Bob Deffinbaugh, in his painstaking exegesis of Acts 9:32 – 10:23, is only too glad to agree with Bombeck.  He begins with a “most unusual conversation” in which a woman tells him the following about her “biblical grounds” for divorce:  Well, you know the Bible teaches that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’, and my husband was a very dirty man

Although the Bible does not contain that cleanliness/godliness quote per se (which seems to have first been popularized by the writings of Francis Bacon, and then revisited two centuries later by John Wesley) - the Bible instead dwells upon the dichotomy between “clean” and “unclean” quite a bit.  In Acts 10:10-16, Peter has a vision in which a voice says, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!”  When Peter views some of the unorthodox food choices that are being presented, he exclaims, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”  The voice then answers, “What God has cleansed is not unholy to you.”  Passages such as this one make it somewhat easy to confuse physical cleanliness with spiritual holiness.

However, that type of confusion can wreak havoc with moral sensibilities.  In 2008, The Economist ran an article titled “Cleanliness is next to godlessness” which emphasized that “soaping away your outer dirt may lead to inner evil.”  The results from a study at the University of Plymouth showed that those who washed with soap and water before viewing “unethical activities” (such as “taking money found  in a lost wallet”) were likely to have “a more relaxed attitude toward morality” than those who didn’t wash up before viewing the same activites.  In a Real Simple Magazine article titled “Secrets Behind Why We Really Love to Clean,” Kate Rope furthermore explained that acts such as “cleaning the fridge” can foster feelings of accomplishment, control, and even inner calm.  (“Godliness,” however, was noticeably absent from her list of squeaky-clean results.)


Copyright July 15, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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