I’ve finished Richard Beck‘s book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, after slowly processing my way through it the last few weeks. This book rocked my world. I was so intrigued by the content of it that I am focusing my next sermon on it. This is a heady read, so it may be tough depending on how disciplined you are as a reader, but it gives plenty to chew and reflect on.
Beck looks at a theological and psychological approach to disgust. While this may seem like an odd topic at first, it is incredible to see the spiritual connections this has. Practices such as communion and baptism take on a whole new meaning. Beck spends much time discussing the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees over being unclean. I had forty-four highlights in this book so it is difficult to narrow down what stood out to me the most. Nonetheless, here are a few that will give you a small picture of this conversation.
Sweet Tooth Theology
“Striving after good theology is similar to managing a sweet tooth. Psychological dynamics will always make certain theological systems more or less appealing. And yet psychologically appealing and intuitive theological systems are not always healthy. In short, these psychological dynamics function as a sweet tooth, a kind of cognitive temptation that pulls the intellectually lazy or unreflective (because we are busy folk with day jobs) into theological orbits that hamper the mission of the church. As with managing the sweet tooth, vigilance and care are needed to keep us on a healthy path.”
Disgust is Something We Develop
“One of the interesting facets of disgust is that it isn’t an emotion we have at birth. Small children are notorious for having little to no disgust response.”
“Disgust, as we have just seen, has a degree of plasticity; it is molded to fit a given culture. We don’t see this feature in other emotions. The core triggers for happiness, fear, sadness, or anger appear to be fairly stable and consistent across cultures. But disgust stimuli can be highly variable from culture to culture.”
The Significance of Communion
“Food, hospitality, salvation, the physical body: every facet of disgust is implicated and blended in the Eucharist. We eat. We welcome. We are purified. We confront the scandal of the Incarnation. Why this particular combination of images?”
“Suffice it to say, I think the Eucharist, providentially so, is engaged in shaping and reshaping how we think about purity, hospitality, and mortality: the three domains, as we have seen, deeply affected by disgust psychology.”
“By universalizing kinship language the Lord’s Supper is actively pushing against the sociomoral fissures of disgust and contempt. The Lord’s Supper, through its metaphors and the missional practices it promotes, is a ritual that is fundamentally altering and remaking the psyche.”