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Miasma – An ancient view of sin and pollution

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The poster reads

The poster reads “Firmly support the decision of the Central Committee to deal with the illegal organization of ‘Falun Gong'” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the more underdeveloped concepts we have today is that of pollution. Sure, we all know about measurable pollution like CO2 / global warming and our dying oceans. But how about spiritual pollution?

Not too many people talk about this. Part of the reason might be due to the misuse of the idea. In China, for instance, certain religious groups can be banned, and their members persecuted for ‘polluting’ the state—Falun Gong being a prime example.

The Chinese authorities periodically try to make ‘pollution’ a spiritual issue. This seems a perversion of a genuinely spiritual understanding of pollution. The Chinese authorities’ agenda with their version of ‘spiritual pollution’ is primarily ideological, and state oppression is tangibly real.

“Every several years — maybe five to seven years — China is likely to have a ‘spiritual pollution’ campaign and ‘anti-spiritual pollution’ campaign which means that they don’t like what they perceive to be coming from the West: sex, the freedoms, drug use; all of these very sensationalistic television programs.”¹

Considering the gross misuse of the term ‘spiritual pollution’ by governments overly concerned with social control, many of us in liberal democratic countries might see it as politically incorrect – or impolite – to say anything at all about spiritual pollution. However, liberal-democratic political correctness, no matter how well-intentioned, can sometimes stand in the way of progressive theory. People may be reluctant to talk about certain issues for fear of being branded a zealot. And I think this might be the case with spiritual pollution.

A 1772 painting by Jacques-Louis David depicting Niobe attempting to shield her children from Artemis and Apollo – via Wikipedia

We walk a fine line with religion these days. Few of us want to upset the apple cart, and for good reason. No person in their right mind wants to hurt or harm another for no reason. But if this also means that discussing the idea of spiritual pollution is utterly taboo, then something’s amiss and freedom wanes.²

The ancient world had a complicated view of spiritual pollution. It certainly was not without its sociological elements. But there was more. Gods and goddesses could be involved, along with demons. Not being a classics scholar, I find it relatively difficult to come up with good material on this. It’s all out there, but one has to weed through the ancient texts to get at it. So I was happily surprised to discover two things.

  • JSTOR now is open to the public. You can access up to three journal articles per 14 days for free. Then after 14 days, three different articles.³
  • While reading a footnote in the revised edition of G. M. A. Grube’s translation of Plato’s Rebublic, I noticed the following reference, which I found at JSTOR.
.
I can’t recommend this review strongly enough for those interested in ancient Greece and the idea of spiritual pollution. It contains a plethora of references to the idea of spiritual pollution as portrayed in classical literature, making it a good starting point for further research.
MC
¹ Nikola Krastev, “China: Report Says Media Control Is Tightening,”Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Thursday, February 23, 2006.
² I make a preliminary attempt in “Pollution” at earthpages.ca
³ I can access JSTOR through the Toronto Public Library. But that only works for me for as long as I live in Toronto, which may not be forever. So I was quick to sign up for my free account, independent of the library.
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