The New Friesian
Theory of Religious Value

after Leonard Nelson, Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, etc.

Audi Israhel Dominus Deus noster Dominus unus est.
Hear, O Israel, the
LORD our God, the LORD is One.
Deuteronomy 6:4

But the real trouble with Mr. Parini's stance [about Jesus] isn't so much its incoherence as its banality. It's the same with all attempts to make religion palatable to the learned. Rather than accepting its authority or ditching it altogether, the urge is to weaken its demands and make its doctrines vague or optional. The result is usually an agreeable but boring philosophy that anyone can adopt and no one would die for. "The Way of Jesus...," Mr. Parini writes, "involves self-denial, a sense of losing oneself in order to find oneself, moving through the inevitable pain of life with good cheer, accepting gracefully the burdens that fall on our shoulders and the tasks that lie before us. This is true discipleship."

If that's all that Jesus came here to tell us, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about.

Barton Swaim, "Who Do You Say I Am?" review of Jesus: The Human Face of God, by Jay Parini [New Harvest, 2013], The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, December 24, 2013, A9

Religion contains a special domain of evaluation:  the holy or the sacred. English has these two words because the former is from the Germanic derivation of the language, while the latter is from Latin sacer, which also has the comparable term sanctus (the past participle of the verb sancio). Thus, the modern German word is heilig, cognate to "holy," while French has sacré and saint, with English borrowing "sacred" and "saint" from French. While the dual roots in English can be explained by the history of the language, we may note, not only the apparent dualism within the Latin terminology, but the existence of two roots in Greek:  , hágios, and , hierós. There seems to be some semantic benefit from the duality.

My impression is that "holy," sanctus, and tend to have a more concrete application, to persons and things, while "sacred," sacer, and are more abstract in their use. Thus, a particular holy person in Christianity will be a "saint," in English and French, from sanctus, and a in Greek. Liddell and Scott [An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, 1889, 1964] do specify as "of things, esp. temples" and "of persons" [p.5], while begins with the more expansive "super-human, mighty, divine, wonderful" [p.376], even while sacer is given as the equivalent for both. If "holy" takes the personal and concrete role of , this is magnified by the intimate and punchy sense that often goes with the English words of Germanic origin (as with "womb" for "uterus"). Although the Germanic words are often monosyllabic in comparison to the Latinate ones, "holy" and "sacred" actually have the same number of syllables -- yet the impression I get is that "sacred" is phonetically more complicated -- as it is, with extra consonants.

"Sacred" has a curious addition in comparison to French sacré. What is the "d"? I suspect that this reflects the fact that sanctus is a past participle, so "sacred" gets the past participle ending. I see something similar happening in other English borrowings. English has "Flanders" where French has Flandre. Why the "s"? Well, Flanders is a plural in Dutch Vlaanderen. So English uses a plural. More intriguing is English "Naples." Again, why the "s"? Well Napoli in Italian looks like a plural, because it ends in "i." But it isn't a plural. The "i" is an artifact of the name in Greek, . So English sailors, from whom "Naples" certainly derives, who probably didn't know Greek, reacted to the appearance of the name in Italian. In fact, French sacré, although used as an adjective, looks like a past participle itself, from sacrer, a verb which now means "to anoint, to crown" as well as "consecrate," but also "to curse and swear."

Nevertheless, the boundary between the "holy" and "sacred" remains vague or weak, and German seems to get by without it:  "Saint" in German is Heilige, while "The Holy," as used by Rudolf Otto, is Das Heilige. Curiously, the distinction that German does not make with heilig, and that English does with "holy/sacred," German makes with its knowing words, and English does not. Thus, German kennen means "know" or "be acquainted with," specifically with persons or places, i.e. with the concrete reference to objects of "holy," while wissen is "know" in a more abstract and general sense, like "sacred." English only has "know," which makes it awkward for English speakers to learn to use the German knowing words, or those of the Romance languages that make a similar distinction.

"Holy" or "sacred" in Egyptian hieroglyphics is -- and the Mayan glyph is . The Chinese character for the concept is (as in , the "Holy Spirit").

In most of the languages now cited, it is not difficult to distinguish that the sacred has two sorts of opposites and three forms of opposition. The opposites are:

  1. The polluted or unholy, , molysmós, , aníeros (literally "unholy"), or , akáthartos (literally "impure") in Greek. In Chinese this is or , or together; and

  2. What may be called the common, mundane, worldly, or secular. In Greek this can be , kosmikós (literally "worldly," as with mundus, "world," in Latin), and in Chinese or . In Arabic, , dunyawî, "worldly" (from , dunyâ, "world"), has exactly the same connotation. On the other hand, the "profane" may be either polluted or merely mundane (and clean), which is nicely expressed by the Latin word profanus, which literally is that "before" (pro) or outside the "temple" (fanum). What is outside the temple, of course, may be impure or merely secular. The distinction between mundane and profane is not always carefully made (and is actually confused by one of its classic treatments, Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane). Indeed, there is no authoritative differentiation of these terms.

The relationship between the holy, the polluted, and the common is similar to that between the beautiful (Greek , kalós), the ugly (, aischrós), and the plain (, haplóos) in aesthetic value. There are no degrees of transition between the beautiful and the ugly. Something cannot really be both beautiful and ugly at the same time -- except in different respects, as in a portrait of an ugly person, e.g. Socrates, that is nevertheless beautifully done or revealing of the beautiful soul, e.g. Socrates [note]. On the other hand, there are degrees of being beautiful or ugly, but both of them tend to the third pole, the plain.

Similarly, something cannot be both sacred and polluted at the same time, but there are degrees of sacredness and pollution, with each tending to the third pole, the common and secular.

Religious value is more complex than aesthetic value because three forms of opposition mark off each of the three poles of the sacred and its two opposites. Thus, there is a difference between 1) the sacred and the profane, 2) the clean (, katharós) and the unclean, and 3) the numinous and the mundane.

The term "numinous," introduced by Rudolf Otto, derives from Latin numen, a word that does not seem to have a precise Greek equivalent. It partakes of elements of and , deinós, "fearful, terrible," with "mighty, powerful, wondrous, marvellous, strange," but also "able, clever, skilful" [Liddell & Scott, pp.176-177], which is drifting from the semantic field. Numen is the particular power, presence, majesty, terror, and will of a deity, with the term deriving from an archaic verb "to nod" (nuo), which may literally mean the nodding of the head of a deity's statue, something that could be done to give an oracular response to questions, especially as a statue is carried in a procession -- as the god Amon was from Karnak to Luxor and back. This can still happen with Chistian saints today, especially when they are carried in procession. The Latin word thus may have its origin in a specific context that did not produce a comparable term in Greek.

What is holy is therefore sacred, clean, and numinous. What is polluted or unholy is profane, unclean, and numinous. And what is common is profane, clean, and mundane. In many ancient religions, one of the most important oppositions is between the clean and the unclean. Many of the rules in the Old Testament concern pollution and cleansing; but cleansing, of course, does not make anything sacred, it merely makes it worthy of becoming, approaching, or associating with the sacred. In almost mathematical terms, nothing can exist on the track expressing degrees of sacredness without leaving the track showing degrees of pollution. The opposition between the sacred and the profane is often confusing because of the bivalence of the category of the profane. Webster's dictionary has one definition of the profane that is mundane, "not concerned with religion or religious purposes: SECULAR," one that definitely involves pollution, "serving to debase or defile what is holy," and one that is mixed or the profane proper, "not holy because unconsecrated, impure, or defiled: UNSANCTIFIED." "Unconsecrated" and "unsanctified" will mean simply the non-sacred, i.e. either unholy or mundane.

The third form of opposition, between the numinous and the mundane, is essentially between matters of religious concern and those that are not. Whether of the holy or of the polluted, religious valuation can be said to possess "numinosity." This can be covered for a start by at least two characters in Chinese. The character is "spirit, spiritual, divine, supernatural, efficacious." This is the religious power that objects or rituals have to produce their effects, which not only is one sense of the numinous but is quite close to the meaning of mana, religious power, in Polynesian languages, as considered below. Then there is , which is the quality of the supernatural as uncanniness, "strange, uncanny, weird, wonderful." This is the mystery and power of the sacred (or, mutatis mutandis, the polluted) set apart from common, ordinary, worldly, secular, and mundane things. The uncanny is the positive and distinct feeling that we get, often associated with hair standing on end, in the presence of supernatural and unnatural presences. We sometimes wonder if dogs, barking at nothing, or cats, with their hair standing on end, are having the same sensation.

Holiness and pollution can both be dangerous, but the difference is that pollution is not sought for its own sake but is often acquired despite that (through spilling blood, having sex, menstruating, eating the wrong things, etc.). Ritual actions are required to remove pollution. Ritual actions are also required before dealing with holy things, in part to remove pollution but also to prepare for the dangers posed by holiness itself. There is nothing dangerous about the merely mundane. It is just a kind of emptiness in comparison.

The holy and the polluted pose a threat to each other. The concepts "defile," "debase," and "desecrate" reveal that even what is holy, as well as what is clean and mundane, can be damaged by the unholy. If the divine presence in a temple is of value to a community because of the protection that the god provides, the desecration of the temple may not harm the god, but it may certainly harm the community, as the means of pleasing and accessing the god is compromised. On the other hand, something may be so holy that it cannot be desecrated. Thus Alfred Kohlatch [This is the Torah, Jonathan David Publishers, 1988] quotes Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra as saying, "Words of the Torah are not susceptible to uncleanness." Kohlatch adds, "No individual, not even one who is ritually impure, can defile a Torah by touching or handling it," and "the Talmud states clearly that a Torah scroll cannot be made ritually unclean regardless of who handles it." On the other hand, the holy is also definitely a threat to the polluted, as is well illustrated in the Biblical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

An intense concern with pollution, and especially death pollution, is conspicuous in two religions of historical note, Shintoism (, the "way of the gods") in Japan and the religion of the Navajo Nation in the American Southwest. Before the Nara Period in Japanese history, a permanent capital for the country did not exist because the death of an Emperor would render his dwelling uninhabitable from death pollution. Even later, the Court was often troubled by the absence of officials who were isolated for long periods of purification because of contact with death. Shintoism, therefore, was more than happy to leave funeral rites and cemeteries to the care of Buddhism, although this then made Buddhist monks so closely associated with death that it was prohibited to even speak of them, or anything about them, at the great shrine of the Sun goddess Amaterasu at Ise, without using the special code words that were developed for that purpose. As we might imagine, it of was often a matter of debate and recourse to official judgment whether or not pollution had been incurred in specific cases. We discover, for intance, that it may be possible to avoid pollution by standing, rather than sitting, at a deathbed.

Similarly, a friend of mine in New Mexico recently told me the story of a young Anglo woman who died while teaching at a Navajo school. Her parents knew how much she loved the school and announced that they would scatter her ashes there. The principal of the school told them that, well, they could do that, but then no one would ever attend the school again. There is a great deal of this sort of thing mentioned in the novels of Tony Hillerman. As with the story of the school, in The Fallen Man [1996], we have the following passage involving one of Hillerman's characters, Navajo Tribal Policeman Jim Chee, who contemplates the proposal to scatter the ashes of a young man, who had loved the land, over Hesperus Peak in Colorado:

"We call it Dibe Nitsaa," Chee said. He thought of a dead man's ashes drifting down on serene slopes that the spirit called First Man had built to protect the Navajos from evil. First Man had decorated the mountain with jet-black jewelry to fend off all bad things. But what could protect it from the invincible ignorance of the white culture? These were good, kind people, he thought, who wouldn't knowingly use corpse powder, the Navajo symbol for the ultimate evil, to desecrate a holy place...

"Its our Sacred Mountain of the North," Chee said. [HarperTorch, 2002, p.50]

Dibé Ntsaa is one of four peaks that define the corners of the Dinétah, the Navajo homeland (with Blanca Peak, Sisnaajinii, in the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado, Mount Taylor, Tsoodzil, above Grants, New Mexico, and the San Francisco Peaks, Dook'o'ooslííd, above Flagstaff, Arizona, standing in the East, South, and West, respectively). As in Shinto, the death of a person within a dwelling will require it to be abandoned, as the dangerous ghost, the chindi, would be trapped inside. In the history of human burial customs, we have the interesting variation in the traditional Navajo practice, not just of burying the dead, but of hiding the body in a perhaps unlikely or inaccessible location. This was to prevent it from being retrieved by witches, who would make it into "corpse powder" to use in sickening or killing people. Hence the alarm, real and fictional, at the scattering of human ashes.

A system of religious ritual prohibitions, like the Polynesian tapu system ("taboo," the Hawaiian kapu -- in Chinese we have , "fear, dread, taboo," etc., or , "taboo" or "avoid as taboo"), serves to keep the various categories separate. The Hawaiian historian R.S. Kuykendall says:

In its fundamental meaning tapu [kapu] as a word was used primarily as an adjective and as such signified that which was psychically dangerous, hence restricted, forbidden, set apart, to be avoided, because: (a) divine, therefore requiring isolation for its own sake from both the common and the corrupt; (b) corrupt, hence dangerous to the common and the divine, therefore requiring isolation from both for their sakes. [quoted by Ralph S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, vol. I, U. of Hawaii Press, 1968, p. 8]

This illustrates nicely the two opposites of the sacred and the dual nature of the barriers that must protect both the holy from everything else and everything else from what is polluted. Hawaiian kapus had a lot to do with eating, especially that men and women could not eat together. The kapu system was overthrown in 1819 when the new King Kamehameha II Liholiho simply sat down and ate with the court women. This was before Christian missionaries had even arrived in Hawaii.

The similarity of the sacred and the polluted was already noted by James George Frazer:

In general, we may say that the prohibition to use the vessels, garments, and so forth of certain persons, and the effects supposed to follow an infraction of the rule, are exactly the same whether the persons to whom the things belong are sacred or what we might call unclean and polluted. [The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion, A New Abridgement by Robert Fraser, Oxford University Press, 1994, p.175]

Frazer, however, thinks that this makes the sacred and the polluted somehow ultimately the same thing:

The uncleanness, as it is called, of girls at puberty and the sanctity of holy men do not, to the primitive mind, differ materially from each other. They are only different manifestations of the same myseterious energy which, like energy in general, is in itself neither good nor bad, but becomes beneficent or maleficent according to its application. [p.703]

Frazer has confused the boundaries, which are the prohibitions (the kapus) connected with the sacred and the polluted, with the content of that which is restricted. A separate vocabulary reflects the polarity of the different contents. In Hawaiian, mana is divine, sacred, miraculous power and authority (), and ho'omana ("make divinely powerful") is used to mean "religion," while another term, haumia, is used to mean "unclean, defiled" [Mary Kawena Pukui & Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, University of Hawaii Press, 1973, pp. 217, 57]. The real difference between the two, of course, is that the properly protected force of the sacred is expected to produce good effects (good weather, harvest, fertility, etc.), while the polluted will blight these effects if not properly isolated. In short, prohibitions of the sacred are intended to protect it, as well as protect others from the ill effects of improper contact with its power, while prohibitions of the polluted are intended entirely to protect everything else from its danger. Frazer was carried away with the analogy to energy and so neglected the polarity of value evident in the rest of "primitive" vocabulary -- positive and negative charges, not energy in general, are the suggestive analogy from science.

In Arabic there is a system of terms similar to tapu from the root h.aruma, , which by itself is a verb that means "to be forbidden, prohibited, interdicted, unlawful, unpermitted." What can be forbidden could be either sacred or polluted. On the sacred side we get h.aram, , meaning "forbidden, prohibited, holy, sacred, sacrosanct" [from Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Cornell University Press, 1966, pp.173-174 for what follows]. It can be also used to mean "wife"; and in the dual, 'al-H.aramân, , "the two Holies," it means the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. Similarly there is h.urmah, , "holiness, sacredness, sanctity; reverence, veneration, esteem, respect; that which is holy, sacred, inviolable; or a woman, lady, or wife." H.arîm, , means "a sacred, inviolable place; sanctum, sacred precinct; harem; female members of the family, women; wife." 'Ih.râm, , means "state of ritual consecration of the Mecca pilgrim." 'Ih.tirâm, , means "deference, respect, regard, etc." Muh.arram, , is "forbidden, interdicted," and the name of the first month of the Islâmic calendar. Muh.rim, , is the "Mecca pilgrim who has entered the state of ritual consecration." And muh.taram, , is "honored, revered, venerated, esteemed, respected."

On the negative side, fencing off the polluted, we find h.arâm, , "forbidden, interdicted, prohibited, unlawful; offense, sin," and 'ibn h.arâm, , h.arâmî, , "son of the forbidden," "illegitimate son, bastard" (this ends up as harâmzâdâ, with the Persian patronymic ending, in Hindi, ). An adjective form of h.arâm means "thief, robber, bandit." But h.arâm can also mean "sacred, sacrosanct," and the Bayt 'alH.arâm, , "House of the Forbidden," is the sacred Ka'abah, the House of God in Mecca. H.urûm, , means "excommunication." Tah.rîm, , means "forbiddance, interdiction, prohibition, ban." When derivatives of the same root, or sometimes the very same derived terms, can mean "bandit, sin, bastard," etc. and also some of the most sacred things in Islâm, we certainly have the same kind of bivalent ambiguity as with tapu/kapu in Polynesia and Hawaii. This ambiguity, however, is speedily clarified when we move to the rest of the vocabulary. Quds, , "holiness, sacredness, sanctity" (or Jerusalem), only applies to the sacred side of the bivalence.

In Egyptian, the word for "sacred," , used as the name of the greatest King of the III Dynasty, is also something we find in , the "Sacred Land," i.e. the Necropolis, where the dead have their "Houses of Etenity." This is about as sacred as it gets in Ancient Egypt -- see "Egyptian Royal Tombs of the New Kingdom" -- though Egyptian tombs have become a favorite locus for horror in modern fiction.

Religion has its numinous character whether the principle objects of religion be immanent or transcendent, e.g. tangible fetishes, idols, places, persons, etc., even states of consciousness, or a supernatural God, heaven, etc. Religion possesses no special category of obligation (i.e. the rites and objects mean nothing to anyone outside the religion) but instead subsumes all the others, usually collapsing them moralistically into the ritual requirements of the religion. The "holy" is thus often equated with moral goodness or, when that sense isn't so strong, with the beautiful or the sublime. Numinous value, however, is polynomicly independent of other forms of evaluation:  religious practices may be repugnant, the gods (or God) may do bad things, or sacred objects may be ugly or repulsive. The cleansing of pollution and the preparations for sacred rituals may require moral rectitude or beautiful costumes, or they may require appalling mortifications, self-mutilations, blood sacrifices, etc. Ritual practices simply may not make any sense.

THE NATURAL GOODReligion, the sacred and the polluted; the view of transcendent reality or of the ultimate meaning of all existence, free of space and time.
ETHICSAesthetics, the beautiful and the ugly; the theory of art & beauty, the worth of things independent of human purposes; good-in-themselves.
Morality of persons, Morality of things, right and wrong; Euergetic Ethics, the good and the bad.
Imperatives, JussivesHortativesOptativesPietatives

kind, right



, benevolent, right good beauty sacred
true, right, just good, beautiful, happy sacred

Graphic Version of Table

This polynomic independence occurs to us as the problem of evil. If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent, then why does evil exist? He would know it exists; he would be able to get rid of it; and he would want to get rid of it. The problem of evil, however, is more general than a theological difficulty over a transcendent personal God. Even without God, as in Buddhism, there is still birth, disease, old age, and death. These were regarded by the Buddha as a problem. They still are, and we must still ask ourselves why the world often seems to be a "meaningless nightmare of suffering." If religion offers consolation that the world makes ultimate sense and has a meaning or a purpose, despite all evidence to the contrary, it is holy things that present the tangible (or perhaps intangible) quality of that consolation.

The confusing thing about the world does lie in the mixed signals given us: because all the polynomic domains of value can vary independently, the holy does not necessarily match up in the natural occurrence of things with the right, the good, or the beautiful. We want to know why the good suffer, when they do not deserve to; and why the evil prosper, when they do not deserve to. All the polarities of value -- pleasure and pain, love and hate, right and wrong, good and bad, beauty and ugliness, holiness and pollution -- are like separate rollers on a slot machine. Every pull of the arm gives us a different combination. Religious faith is just that we would like to believe that there is some deep connection between the pleasurable, the right, the good, the beautiful, and the holy and that, beyond our reckoning, all the positive aspects of value in some sense do collapse together into one comprehensive form of value. We can live our lives trying to put all the positive aspects together, trying to get the jackpot on that slot machine, but we know that for ourselves and for the world we can have only limited success. Religion therefore reassures us that deep in the nature of things, whether here or in the hereafter, all the positive aspects are together. For religion the holy is precisely how the positive aspects of value are connected.

An important bit of evidence about the polynomic independence of religious from the other forms of value, and about the role of numinosity in answering the problem of evil, occurs in the conflict of "faith versus works" in several religions. By the time of Augustine, it is firmly established in Christianity that salvation is due to divine grace, not our own efforts, and that our efforts to be morally good are doomed anyway -- "There is none righteous, no, not one... there is none that doeth good, no, not one" [Romans 3:10,12]. As hopeless sinners, we can only be redeemed from our sin by the sacrifice of Christ in the Crucifixion, and our actual salvation, therefore, is independent of our ability to be good. Mediaeval Catholicism tried to balance the requirements of morality with the requirements of salvation by holding that salvation can be achieved even through repentance in articulo mortis, at the moment of death, but that the "stain" of sin must be worked off in Purgatory. The repentant sinner thus did not receive a free ride to heaven. This compromise was actually rejected by Martin Luther, who took Christ's expiation of sin so seriously that sincere repentance truly did wash one free of sin. Such "salvation by faith alone" even seems to turn up in the third part of the Star Wars trilogy, The Return of the Jedi, when the vicious tyrant, sorcerer, and mass murderer Darth Vader is redeemed and transfigured at death into the moral equal of the heroes Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda.

Protestantism is a more consistent and coherent application of Christian doctrine than Catholicism. Thus, while the Catholic Church distinguishes between "eternal punishment," which is forgiven, and "temporal [i.e. temporary] punishment," which must be expiated by penance [Catechism of the Catholic Church, Doubleday, 1995, pp. 407, 411; translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994], Protestants rightly object that this is not a distinction evident in the principle that sin is forgiven by Jesus. Protestants consequently reject both Purgatory and the mechanism of Confession, Absolution, and Penance in religious life. The Catholic concern, however, reflects an older dimension of religious life. Although this is certainly not part of Catholic doctrine, Purgatory and penance both make perfect sense in terms of pollution, of which we might be reminded to see Catholic writers, such as the Venerable Bede, referring to the "stain of sin" as what must be expiated.

But in truth there are some who were preordained to the lot of the elect on account of their good works, but on account of some evils by which they were polluted, went out from the body after death to be severely chastised, and were seized by the flames of the fire of purgatory [flammis ignis purgatorii]. They are either made clean from the stains of their vices in their long ordeal up until judgement day, or, on the other hand, if they are absolved from their penalties by the petitions, almsgiving, fasting, weeping, and oblation of the saving sacrificial offering by their faithful friends, they may come earlier to the rest of the blessed. [Bede, Homily for Advent, quoted in Heaven's Purge, Purgatory in Late Antiquity, by Isabel Moreira, Oxford, 2010, p.17 -- bracketed Latin in text, boldface added -- note the anomalous sense that salvation is merited by works, or preordained, rather than by faith]

Thus, Heracles was required to perform his Labors in penance, after killing his wife and children, even though, having been driving mad by Hera, he was not morally responsible for his actions. The pollution was the same. The sinner, therefore, may be exempted from the punishment of strict moral retribution, but the pollution must still be removed. Since this is a strictly numinous quality, its expiation may be by religious, i.e. ritual, means. Prayer, fasting, and other ritual acts will do it, or, in turn, the Intercession of Saints, Indulgences granted by the Church, or the power of the Vow of Amitâbha, will all be germane to the issue.

It is noteworthy in this system, however, that there is a moral element involved in addition to faith and grace, let alone pollution, and that indeed is repentance. Jesus does not just say "Believe," as in, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" [John 6:47], but we also get, "And that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 4:17]. Regardless of whether some purgation is required for sin, the essential step is nevertheless that one in fact repent of sin in the first place. This addresses the case of people who are willing to do wrongs because they expect to be forgiven for them later. With such intentions, it is not clear that sincere repentance is likely to follow. Similarly, the sinner who is confessed and absolved, who intends to do wrongs anyway, in the confidence that he will be confessed and absolved again, cannot be truly penitent over his sins. He is attempting to game the system. I expect that Catholics and Protestants would agree that such a person, who does not sincerely repent of sin, cannot be saved. This ties together morality and salvation in at least one firm way.

Although a dispute for the need for punishment or purgation for evil may be thought of as peculiarly Christian, it is not. Islâm in its early days had to deal with the claims of the Khârijites that anyone guilty of a grave sin was no longer a Moslem. The Orthodox answer came to be that only the sin of polytheism, which would hardly seem to indicate Islâmic religious sentiment anyway, was inconsistent with being a Moslem. Everyone else was actually saved, although God might punish them for a while prior to admitting them to heaven. Thus, in properly polynomic fashion, moral goodness varied independently with the means of salvation. Even more interesting, however, is the case of the Jôdo Shin Shû, , the "True Pure Land," Sect of Buddhism in Japan. Shinran (1174-1268) founded Jôdo Shin in 1224 and taught that rebirth in the Pure Land of the Buddha Amitâbha (Japanese Amida) could be achieved by no efforts of our own, but only through absolute reliance of the power of the Vow of Amida. This teaching, together with Jôdo Shin insistence on our own sinfulness and worthlessness, persuaded the later Jesuit missionary in Japan, Alessandro Valignano, that Satan had taught the same heresy to Shinran than he later taught to Martin Luther. Even birth in the Pure Land, however, although it saves one from the Hells, does not get one entirely off the hook:  the lotus in which one is born does not open immediately for the sinful, and may not open for kalpas, or millions of years, if one is sufficiently sinful. And this is in a system of Buddhism that, like Catholicism, has no overt concern for pollution.

The problem of faith versus works often creates the same uneasiness as other manifestations of the polynomic nature of value. The aesthetic independence of art is bad enough, but many people, or the entire religion of Zoroastrianism, find it hard to credit that God, or the Buddha Amida, would reward people with Salvation for anything other than moral goodness. At the same time, such a teaching addresses an important aspect of the human condition:  people often mean well but do the wrong thing, or feel helpless and worthless in relation to their own desires and temptations. Some people commit major crimes but then seriously repent of them. Even if they are willing to face secular retribution for such crimes, they desperately desire an avenue out of eternal punishment. The promise of salvation by faith alone is that a genuine change of heart, and a proper attitude now, can put things right with Eternity, whether that is thought of as God or the Dharma. Catholicism and Orthodox Islâm thus would seem to represent a certain sophistication, neither denying salvation nor trivializing moral wrongs. If they do this through a surreptitious use of the dynamic of pollution, that is a tribute to the durability, and usefullness, of the full arsenal of the ancient dimension of religious value. Luther and Shinran, one might think, represent an overwhelming insight into the polynomic independence of salvation, but an insight that is so overwhelming as to create a moral distortion, like the artist who thinks that moral wrongs are simply excused by the production of good art (as Roman Polanski is excused for raping a drugged and under-age girl). This seems strongly contrary to Otto's convenient view that Protestantism is the most morally advanced form of religion.

Crime and Punishment, Repentance, Restitution, and Atonement

The Kant-Friesian Theory of Religion and Religious Value

Faith, Works, and Knowledge

Religious Value and the Antinomies of Transcendence

Thought Experiments on the Soul

Shame, Beauty, and the Ambivalence of the Flesh

Philosophy of Religion

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Copyright (c) 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note

While Socrates is ugly and beautiful in very different respects, i.e. inside vs. outside, there is also the experience of things or people that seem to be ugly overall or beautiful overall but have some beautiful or ugly feature that redeems or compromises, respectively, the effect. This can leave some uncertainty or ambivalence about the impression of the whole. In such cases, and even where no particular contrary feature can be identified, an initial impression of beauty can progress to an impression of ugliness, while an initial impression of ugliness or plainness can progress to an impression of beauty. The later is what we see in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy's first impression of Elizabeth Bennett is that "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me" [1813, Penguin, 1972, p.59]. Later we find him saying of her, "for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance' [p.290]. How it is that such progressions occur is a good question. With people, it often seems that their expressions and manner are taken to reveal such characteristics of their personality that put what may be indifferent features in a different light, as it were. With Darcy, he remarks that Elizabeth's "fine eyes" began to attract him; but the reader, like Elizabeth herself, is free to judge that Elizabeth, who was already regarded by most as good looking, actually began to appeal to Darcy more as her personality was revealed through conversation and other social interaction. She grew on him.

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