The New Friesian
Theory of Religious Value

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

Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ· Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν Κύριος εἷς ἐστι.
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; note, without "Jesus Saves," it is not Christianity; see here.

Lā ḥawla wa-lā qūwata ʾillā bi-llāh.
There is no power and no strength save in God.

The , Ḥawqalah,
frequently found in the Thousand and One Nights.

The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year’s Day, got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him....

What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works....

It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis....

What the Modernists have done... [is] to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes... Religion is something else again -- in Henrik Ibsen’s phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mud-upbringing. Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Muhammad [John Calvin?]. He failed-but he was undoubtedly right.

H.L. Mencken, "Dr. Fundamentalis," Evening Sun, January 18, 1937

A frequent visitor to The Swamp parties was the Catholic chaplain of the area, Father John Patrick Mulcahy, a native of San Diego and former Maryknoll missionary. He was a lean, hungry-looking, hook-nosed, red-haired, and, in the eyes of the Swampmen, one of a kind.

The occupants of The Swamp had loose religious affiliations. Hawkeye claimed he had been brought up to be an all-over Baptist but that he had lost his nerve at the last minute [i.e. for full immersion baptism]. Duke was a foot-washing Baptist, and Trapper John was a former mackerel-snapper [i.e. a Catholic] who had turned in his knee pads. It was the Duke who hung the name of Dago [i.e. "Italian," although can also be from Spanish "Diego" -- for an obvious Irishman] Red on the Father, and the Father accepted it with good humor.

Prior to being in the Army, Dago Red had spent five years in China and seven years on top of a mountain in Bolivia. His contacts had been limited. With Duke and Hawkeye and Trapper John he found stimulation in conversation that included politics, surgery, sin, baseball, literature and religion. Dago Red combined the dignity of his profession and the wisdom, understanding and compassion of an honest missionary with the ability to tolerate the Swampmen. He became one of them.

At two o'clock one morning, Hawkeye and Trapper John were fighting what seemed to be a losing battle in the OR with a kid who had been shot through both chest and belly. Despite control of hemorrhage and administration of blood, the patient, whose peritoneum had been contaminated for ten hours by spillage from his lacerated colon, went deeper and deeper into shock.

"Maybe we'd better get Dago Red," said Hawkeye.

"Call Dago," ordered Trapper John.

Richard Hooker, MASH, A Novel About Three Army Doctors [1968, Harper Perennial, 2001, pp.36-37], for the sequel see the epigraphs to On Miracles [note].

ὄλβιος ὃς τάδ᾽ ὄπωπεν ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων·
ὃς δ᾽ ἁτελὴς ἱερῶν ὅς τ᾽ ἄμμορος,
οὔ ποθ᾽ ὁμοίων αἶσαν ἔχει φθίμενός περ ὑπὸ ζόφωι εὐρώεντι.

Blessed [ὄλβιος] is the one of all the people on the earth
who has seen these [ὄργια καλά, beautiful mysteries].
But whoever is not initiated into the rites, whoever has no part in them,
that person never shares the same fate when he dies
and goes down to the gloom and darkness below.

Hymn to Demeter, The Homeric Hymns, translated by Jules Cashford,
Penguin Books, 2003, pp.25-26, translation modified; Greek text, "To Demeter," Homeric Hymns, Homeric Apocryptha, Live of Homer, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 2003, p.70.

They vainly purify themselves of blood-guilt [μιαινόμενοι, "stained, defiled, tainted of guilt"] by defiling themselves with blood, as though one who had stepped into mud were to wash with mud; he would seem to be mad, if any of men noticed him doing this. Further, they pray to these statues [ἀγάλματα], as if one were to carry on a conversation with houses, not recognizing the true nature of gods or heroes.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, quoted by Aristocritus, Theosophia 68, The Presocratic Philosophers, G.S. Kirk & J.E. Raven, Cambridge, 1964, p.211

Ὁ ἁπτόμενος τοῦ τεθνηκότος πάσης ψυχῆς ἀνθρώπου
ἀκάθαρτος ἔσται ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας.
Qui tetigerit cadaver hominis et propter hoc septem diebus fuerit inmundus.
Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days.

Numbers 19:11

ἁγνὰς μέν, ὦ παῖ, χεῖρας αἵματος φορεῖς;
Your hands, I presume, are clean of blood, child?

The Nurse to Phaedra, Hippolytus, by Euripides, line 315, translated by David Kovacs, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1995, pp.152-153.

ʾInnahu laqawlu rasūlin karīmin.
Wamā huwa biqawli šāʿirin; qalīlam mā tuʾminūna!
Walā biqawli kāhinin; qalīlam mā taðakkarūna!

This is indeed the word of a noble messenger.
It is not the word of a poet; how little you believe!
And not the word of a seer; how little you attend!

ʾal-Qurʾān, Sura 69:40-42 [translation, Arabs, A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires, by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, p.130], translation modified [note]

ἅγιος, ἅγιος, ἅγιος, δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ, καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη.
Holy, holy, holy, glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959), "The Coronation of an Emperor, "De Ceremoniis [Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, Book I, Chapter 38, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012, Volume I, p.193]; for ὕψιστος, "highest," see here.

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 practical dualism within the Latin terminology, but the existence of two roots in Greek:  ἅγιος, hágios (this was ἁγνός, hagnós, in Homer [note]), and ἱερός, hierós. There seems to be some semantic benefit from the duality.

My impression is that "holy," sanctus, and ἅγιος tend to have a more concrete application, to persons and things, while "sacred," sacer, and ἱερός 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 ἅγιος in Greek.

Liddell and Scott [An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, 1889, 1964] do specify ἅγιος as "of things, esp. temples" and "of persons" [p.5], while ἱερός 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 ἅγιος, 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 [note].

"Sacred" has a curious addition in comparison to French sacré. What is the "d"? I suspect that this reflects the fact that sanctus and sacré are both past participles, so "sacred" gets the past participle ending, "-ed" [note].

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 , which also happens to be the name of the principal King of the III Dynasty. In Sumerian it is , kungal or kugngal. In Akkadian, the first sign becomes , which means "pure, clear" and figures, as in Sumerian, in the words for "gold" (ḫurāṣu), "silver" (kaspu), etc.

However, Akkadian also has terms from the same root as "sacred" in Hebrew -- the noun , and the adjective, -- and in Arabic -- the noun , and the adjective -- namely quddušu, "purified, consecrated," qadāšu, "to be(come) pure," and, especially, with some transposition in the root, qašdu, "pure, holy," and quššudu, "very holy, sanctified." I have not seen ideographic writings for these; so, for all I know, they were just written phonetically.

The Mayan glyph for "sacred" is . And the Chinese character for the concept is -- as in (Japanese shōnin), "holy man," "Sage," or even "Confucius." The binomes , "holy ground" or "Holy Land," and , "Holy Spirit," can be used as Christian terminology. is used, not just for Confucius himself, but equally by Taoism in the Tao Te Ching, for Taoist hermit or mendicant sages, and by Buddhism for monks, hermits, mendicants, and the founders of Buddhist schools (such as Nichiren, , Daishōnin, , the "Great Holy Man," the founder of Nichiren Buddhism).

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, μολυσμός, molysmós, ἀνίερος, aníeros (literally "unholy"), or ἀκάθαρτος, akáthartos (literally "impure") in Greek. In Chinese this is or , or together.

  2. What may be called the common, mundane, worldly, or secular. In Greek this can be κοσμικός, kosmikós (literally "worldly," as with mundus, "world," in Latin), and in Chinese or . In Arabic, , dunyawī, "worldly" (from , dunyā, "world" -- see Dunyāzād, ), has exactly the same connotation.

  3. 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. We have also seen how ὅσιος, "pious," may fit into this ground [note].

    In the Liddel and Scott Intermediate Greek Lexicon, there is no precise, etymological equivalent for profanus, but the term βέβηλος, is defined as "allowable to be trodden, permitted to human use, Lat. profanus" [Oxford, 1889, 1964, p.149]. This sounds about right. They add, however, that "of persons" is can mean "unhallowed, impure, or uninitiated in rites." This implies that the uninitiated are unclean, which some might think, and which, of course, fits within the polluted side of "profane." Βέβηλος derives from βηλός, "that on which one treads, the threshold," Latin limen [p.150]. This in itself is a term relevant to our issues, where "liminal" describes the boundaries I am describing between these domains of value. The threshold of the temple divides the sacred from the profane.

    We also have an interesting entry for the word ἄρρητος, with meanings ranging from "unspoken" to "not to be spoken, not to be divulged, of sacred mysteries... διδακτά τε ἄρρητά τ᾽, i.e. things profane and sacred" [p.119]. So that would be one way to express Eliade's own title. As it happens, διδακτος simply means "that can or ought to be taught" [p.198], apparently in contrast to ἄρρητος, which is what cannot be spoken, and so apparently not taught. We see ἄρρητος as "ineffable" for mystical knowledge.

The relationship between the holy, the polluted, and the common is similar to that between the beautiful (Greek καλός, kalós), the ugly (αἰσχρός, aischrós), and the plain (ἁπλόος, 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 (καθαρός, katharós; Arabic , wuḍūʾ, "ritual purity, for prayer, pilgrimage") and the unclean, and 3) the numinous (numinosus) and the mundane (mundanus).

The term "numinous," introduced by Rudolf Otto, derives from Latin numen, a word that does not seem to have a precise Greek equivalent [note].

Numen It partakes of elements of ἱερός and δεινός, deinós, "fearful, terrible," with "mighty, powerful, wondrous, marvellous, strange," but also "able, clever, skillful" [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" (numinositas). 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 are 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 (, Shintō, 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.

Navajo Death Pollution and Sacred Mountains

Similarly, we see the strength of belief about death pollution in Navajo religion in a story a friend of mine in New Mexico told me 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...

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

(1) Dibé Ntsaa is one of four peaks that define the corners of the Dinétah, the Navajo homeland. The other sacred peaks are (2) Blanca Peak, Sisnaajini, in the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado, (4) Mount Taylor, Tsoodził, above Grants, New Mexico, and the San Francisco Peaks, Dook'o'ooslííd, above Flagstaff, Arizona, standing in the East, South, and West, respectively.

Despite the colors associated with the animals of the six directions, the colors associated with the North are black, with the East, white, with the South, blue, and with the West, yellow. These go with the respective sacred peaks -- each color goes with a natural artifact or mineral. Compare with the colors for directions in Chinese and Mayan cosmology. Unlike the Chinese and Mayan systems, there is no color for the "center," and the color red is missing from the directions.

There are at least two other sacred mountains in Navajo cosmology. The most important may be Gobernador Knob, Ch’óol’í’í, which is on top of Fir, or Spruce, Mountain. This is about 30 miles almost due East of Aztec, New Mexico, South of Navajo Lake on the San Juan River. This is said to be where the deity Changing Woman was found by Talking God. As the "heart" of the Navajo Nation, Gobernador Knob could represent the cosmological center, but I don't find it called that or assigned a symbolic color. A character in A Thief of Time [1988] is said to have left "prayer sticks" at a "shrine" there and chanted.

The other sacred mountain is Huerfano Mesa, or Dził Na’oodiłii, which appears on maps as Huerfano Mountain. This is about 41 miles South-East of Farmington, New Mexico, just off US-550 between Cuba and Farmington. It is said to be a home of First Man, ‘Altsé Hastiin, and First Woman, ‘Altsé ‘Asdzáá. They found Changing Woman as a baby, and raised her, but they were not her parents. I don't gather that any particular rituals are performed there, or, for that matter, at Gobernador Knob -- apart from the reference above. Huerfano doesn't seem to represent any direction or significant orientation in Navajo cosmology.

The location of the sacred mountains can be found on particular maps. In the books themselves, there are references to the AAA "Indian Country" maps. I have one from 1987 and another from 2000. The peaks of the four directions are all on the maps, as is Huerfano Mountain; but Gobernador Knob is not identified. Specialized maps for the Hillerman books are "Tony Hillerman's Indian Country Map & Guide" [Time Traveler Maps, 1998] and "Tony Hillerman's Landscapes" [University of New Mexico press, 2007].

On the first, both Gobernador Knob and Huerfano Mesa are identified because they are mentioned in A Thief of Time. On the second map, which has Anne Hillerman listed as a co-author, Huerfano Mountain is identified and supplemented with a brief discussion, like other sites in the books. Gobernador Knob is identified on the map with an almost invisible notice and awarded no discussion. There is a feature on the "Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajo," which means those of the cardinal directions, but not the other two.

The AAA maps are mentioned in the books, not because of sacred sites, but because they have good information about the many unimproved roads on the Navajo Reservation. As far as I can tell, there is still not a paved road out to Chaco Canyon, despite it being a "National Historical Park" and a major tourist destination. This may be, indeed, to discourage too much traffic. Too many visitors can begin to degrade the site.

As in Shintō, the death of a person within a Navajo dwelling will require it to be abandoned, as the dangerous ghost, the chindi (ch'į́įdii), would be trapped inside. To signify its status, a "death hogan" has a hole knocked through the north wall. One might think this would be to allow the chindi to escape, but evidently not. Hospitals must therefore be dangerous places.

Many Navajo do actually die in the hospitals in Gallup, New Mexico, and elsewhere. In 1981, a friend of mine (the same friend I photographed atop the Temple of Bêl in Palmyra in 1970), who worked as a paramedic in the area, needed to take a course of antibiotics because he had examined a Navajo patient who later died at a hospital in Gallup. The man was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, which is highly contagious and deadly. Bubonic plague, a precursor of the pneumonic, was endemic in the area at the time.

To avoid ruining a hogan, dying people might be removed to the "summer bower" that is often found by Navajo dwellings, typically to provide shade and breezes, and sleeping space, during the hot summer months. A traditional hogan, which doesn't have windows (although modernized hogans exist, as in the photo), is going to be hot in the summer.

Just as common, a hogan is kept for ritual purposes and the actual living may be in an adjacent modern house (which may be a government pre-fab) or house trailer. It is thus not an unusual sight to see a lot with a hogan, trailer, bower, satellite dish, and pickup truck (with gunrack) present. Jim Chee is said to live in a trailer by the San Juan River outside Shiprock, New Mexico. However, we don't hear about him having a hogan or summer bower.

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.

The Navajo Conception of Hózhǫ́

The Navajo Language

Sacred Names

Navajo Burial

Taboos for the Sacred and the Polluted

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 mysterious 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, la'a is "Sacred, holy, devoted, consecrated, set apart for sacred purposes, dedicated," and the causative ho'ola'a is "To consecrate, dedicate, hallow." Mana is numinosity in general, "Supernatural or divine power" () and even "a powerful nation, authority," while ho'omana ("make divinely powerful") is used to mean "religion" or "place in authority, empower, authorize." Another term, haumia, is used to mean "unclean, defiled" -- with its opposite ma'ema'e, "clean, pure, caste" [Mary Kawena Pukui & Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, University of Hawaii Press, 1973, pp. 173, 217, 57, 201]. The real difference between la'a and haumia, 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. Since Frazer doesn't mention the contrast between la'a and haumia, we may accuse him of neglecting a key piece of falsifying data. At right we see the Hawaiian terminology, also written in the "fantasy syllabary" for the language.

There is also what is in contrast to the whole of complex of la'a, mana, and haumia. This is the term noa, which in Hawaiian means "Freed of taboo, released from restrictions" or even "Commoner," with ho'onoa meaning "To cause to cease, of a taboo; to free from taboo" [Pukui & Elbert, op. cit., p. 247]. The reduplication, noanoa also means "Commoner," while ho'onoanoa is the equivalent of ho'onoa [ibid.]. The term noa therefore puts us in the mundane and worldly domain, outside both the sacred and the polluted.

The word, usually unchanged, is quite common throughout Polynesia, and we find a particularly detailed defintion in A Dictionary of the Maori Language of Rarotonga [Stephen Savage, Department of the Island Territories, Wellington, 1962, Institute of Pacific Studies, Ministry of Education, Government of the Cook Islands, 1980]:  "noa n. denotes the state or condition of being free from tapu, sacred, etc., of being common, vulgar, or profane: adj. common, profane, vulgar, pertaining to or being used by the common people; mean or low, rude; of no consequence, insignificant, etc." [p.182]. The equivalent of ho'onoa is aka-noa, "v[erb]. to make common, vulgar, or profane; to make or to be unsanctified"; and we get several other interesting derivatives, ngai-noa, "n[oun]. a place or locality from which restriction has been removed; a place used in common, a common place; an unsanctified place," tangata-noa, "n. a common or vulgar or profane person," ta-noa, "to make or render common, profane or vulgar, to cause to become common, etc., to desecrate," and ta-noanoa, "v. to make collectively or wholly common, vulgar or profane; to desecrate wholly or collectively" [ibid.]. There is also the reduplication, noanoa, which means "to be entirely without restraint or restriction; to become absolutely vulgar or common" [ibid.]. We get a brief entry for Tahitian in A Tahitian and English Dictionary [The London Missionary Society's Press, 1851, Editions Haere Po no Tahiti, 1991], where noa means "common, in opposition to raa [Hawaiian la'a], sacred" [p.155]. In all of these there is an interesting drift of meaning from merely "free of taboo" to "common," "vulgar," or "profane" in the negative and disparaging senses found for those words in English. The tangatanoa may not be polluted but he is also not of the (relatively) sacred nobility, the ali'i (Hawaiian) or ariki (Māori), and is probably "free of restraint" in prudential as well as moral or religious senses.

In Arabic there is a system of terms similar to tapu from the root ḥaruma, , 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 ḥaram, , 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, ʾal-Ḥaramān, , "the two Holies," it means the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. Similarly there is ḥurmah, , "holiness, sacredness, sanctity; reverence, veneration, esteem, respect; that which is holy, sacred, inviolable; or a woman, lady, or wife." Ḥarīm, , means "a sacred, inviolable place; sanctum, sacred precinct; harem; female members of the family, women; wife." ʾIḥrām, , means "state of ritual consecration of the Mecca pilgrim." ʾIḥtirām, , means "deference, respect, regard, etc." Muḥarram, , is "forbidden, interdicted," and the name of the first month of the Islāmic calendar. Muḥrim, , is the "Mecca pilgrim who has entered the state of ritual consecration." And muḥtaram, , is "honored, revered, venerated, esteemed, respected."

On the negative side, fencing off the polluted, we find ḥarām, , "forbidden, interdicted, prohibited, unlawful; offense, sin," and ʾibn ḥarām, , ḥarāmī, , "son of the forbidden," "illegitimate son, bastard" (this ends up as harāmzādā, with the Persian patronymic ending, in Hindi, ). An adjective form of ḥarām means "thief, robber, bandit." But ḥarām can also mean "sacred, sacrosanct," and the Bayt al-Ḥarām, , "House of the Forbidden," is the sacred Kaʿabah, the House of God in Mecca. Ḥurūm, , means "excommunication." Taḥrīm, , 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 Islām, 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.

Degrees of Obligation in ʾIslāmic Law

Arabic Transcription Issues

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 Eternity." 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.

The interesting use of boundaries for the sacred involves the Roman officials called "tribunes" (tribuni). The "tribunes of the plebs" (tribuni plebis) were created to protect the class of Plebs from actions by the Senatorial class, the Patricians (patricii). They effected this protection because they were "sacrosanct," sacrosanctus, i.e. "consecrated, holy, sacred, inviolable." As Fustel de Coulanges puts it:

...the effect was to render these first tribunes sacrosancti. Now, these words signified that the body of the tribune should be reckoned thenceforth among the objects which religion forbade to be touched, and whose simple touch made a man unclean. [Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City, A Study of the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome, translated by Willard Small, 1874, Doubleday & Company, 1955, Dover Publications, 2006, p.293; La cité antique, 1865]

As with Fraser above, de Coulanges expresses some uncertainty about what lies beyond numinous barrier:

We do not sufficiently understand the ideas of the ancients to say whether this sacrosanct character rendered the person of the tribune honorable in the eyes of the patricians, or marked him, on the contrary, as an object of malediction and horror. The second conjecture is more in accordance with probability. What is certain is, that in every way the tribune was inviolable; the hand of a patrician could not touch him without grave impiety.

A law conferred and guaranteed this inviolablility; it declared that "no person should use violence towards a tribune, or strike him, or kill him." It added that "whoever committed one of these acts against a tribune should be impure, that his property should be confiscated to the profit of the temple of Ceres, and that one might kill him with impunity." The law concluded in these words, whose vagueness powerfully aided the future progress of the tribuneship: "No magistrate, or private person, shall have the right to do anything against a tribune." [p.294, color added]

The "probability" that the tribune is "an object of maldediction and horror," however, is clearly inconsistent with the obvious meaning of sacrosanctus, which means benefiting from a rite than renders something "consecrated, holy, sacred, inviolable." This does give us occasion to reflect, on the other hand, that the consequences of violating the boundary against the sacred and the boundary against the polluted may be similar. Trespassing into what is unclean exposes one to the contagion of pollution. This may not actually be a crime against religion, but it does mean that one must undergo some kind of purification. Thus, contact with blood, menstrual blood, semen, or death may be morally or religious innocent in itself, but purification will be necessary. On the other hand, improperly trespassing the boundaries of the sacred will at once be morally or religiously wrongful and will render one impure. The impurity is not from a contagion, but one's own consequent pollution may become contagious unless purified and expiated.

This clearly fits the case of the Roman Tribunes. They cannot even be touched without the offender suffering, not just pollution, but a guilt that warrants the confiscation of his property and exposes him to violence against his very life. This is not unusual among sacred beings, even among mortals. Thus, we see that the King of Egypt, the , the "Good God," is too sacred even to be touched without harm. Similarly, the Emperor of Japan was not supposed to be looked at directly, even as a certain level of sacred nobility in Hawai'i were not supposed to be looked at, at all, by commoners, on pain of death. Even as these prohibitions attend their sacred status, it is not surprising that similar prohibitions apply where the problem is pollution rather than holiness, as we see in the Untouchable and Unseeable Castes of traditional India.

This means that it is possible to indeed "understand the ideas of the ancients" to the extent of understanding that the sacrosancti tribuni are protected by a numinous barrier, not because they are unholy or objects of "malediction and horror," but because they have been rendered sacred, as we can tell from their traditional characterization. This was intended to render them immune from political or legal action. This enabled them to protect plebeians:

If a plebeian was maltreated by a consul who condemned him to imprisonment, or by a creditor who laid hands on him, the tribute appeared, placed himself between them (intercessio), and stayed the patrician hand. Who would have dared "to do anything against a tribune"...? [p.294]

This was a great power in Roman politics, as it was intended to be. And even if a patrician saw this with "malediction and horror," because his political designs or legal claims could be frustrated, to the plebeian it would have been a veritable deus ex machina of divine intervention.

...Idololatrie (ein abergläubischer Wahn, dem höchsten Wesen sich durch andere Mittel, als durch eine moralische Gesinnung, wohlgefällig machen zu können)...*

[Note]*Abgötterei in praktischen Verstande ist noch immer diejenige Religion, welche sich das höchste Wesen mit Eigenschaften denkt, nach denen noch etwa anders, als Moralität, die für sich taugliche Bedingung sein könne, seinem Willen in dem, was der Mensch zu tun vermag, gemäß zu sein.

...idolatry (a superstitious delusion that we can make ourselves pleasing to the supreme being by means other than a moral attitude).*

[Note]*Any religion still remains idolatry in a practical sense of the term, if it conceives of the surpreme being as having properties that allow something else besides morality to be, of itself, a sufficient condition for man's conforming, in what he is capable of doing, to that being's will.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, Translated by Werner S. Pluhar, Hackett Publishing, 1987, p.351

Kant's Bonfire of Idolatry

I have provided the quote from Immanuel Kant here to remind us that a philosophy of religion like that of Kant excludes from consideration almost everything I have been writing about religion to this point. Is there, indeed, one religion from all of history that consists of nothing other than pleasing a "supreme being" (höchsten Wesen) by way of a "moral attitude" (moralische Gesinnung)? I don't think so. Thus, by Kant's definition of religion, there have been no religions until his own oxymoronic "rational religion." This absurd conclusion is something I have already noted in relation to Kant's remarkable and hostile statement that Judaism is not a religion -- a condemnation that seems contradicted by Kant's statement elsewhere that the Jews are "bound by an ancient admitted superstitution," einem alten... anerkannten Aberglauben verbunden, which sounds like a form of religion, although one rejected by Kant [«Anthropologie», Werkausgabe XII, Schriffen zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politk und Pädagogik 2, Herausgeben von Wilhelm Weisschedel, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 193, Insel-Verlag Wiesbaden 1964, p.518; see].

For what Kant missed, or rejected, in religion, let me count the ways. What, for instance, does Baptism accomplish? It is supposed to cleanse us of Original Sin.
Baptism in Kansas, 1928,
John Steuart Curry (1897–1946), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
What has that got to do with anyone's moral attitude now? Nothing. Yet in traditional Catholicism, unbaptised infants are doomed to eternity in Limbo. As a proper Protestant, Kant can reject this; but all Protestants otherwise require baptism. This is a ritual requirement, whatever its rationale, that is entirely independent of a "moral attitude," although one might think that its acceptance signifies a certain moral seriousness. However, Jesus himself accepted Baptism. Presumably, his moral status already existed, without the need from any help from a ritual.

So this looks like something that Kant would vigorously reject as superstition and "idolatry," perhaps even if we could send him back in time to the presence of John the Baptist himself. What if Kant found himself in line waiting behind Jesus? Would Jesus get a stern lecture about "moral attitude"? And even with some rationalization for it, how does the Kantian choose between "full immersion" and something more superficial? Catholics use a bit of water, but it is the Protestants who want us entirely wet. How seriously Protestants take this we can see in the classic movie Life with Father [1947], with William Powell and Irene Dunne, where Dunn is distressed that Powell had never been Baptised. Perhaps as a good Kantian, Powell sees no point in it, but his soul is in peril -- and he finally gives in and endures Baptism.

The Lord was pleased with the offerings of Abel, and not with those of Cain (Genesis 4:3-5). This had consequences (Genesis 4:8). But pleasing the Lord with offerings has nothing to do with a "moral attitude"; yet the practice of religion universally for many centuries, and still among many of the world's religions, has been to make offerings and sacrifices. God even asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, about which Jews and Christians and others have been puzzling and agonizing ever since -- as I have discussed at length elsewhere. That an animal sacrifice was substituted still left the principle of sacrifice. We might imagine that Christians no longer offer sacrifices, but theologically all sacrifices became embodied in that of Christ himself, the "Lamb of God," who redeems the Fall. Few rationalists have any patience with this, despite its essential place in Christian faith. Socrates, of course, puzzled over the meaning of offerings to the gods, with an effect, we might say, of ultimately destroying Greek religion.

But perhaps we can dismiss offerings, as they are still practiced in India, China, etc. as superstitious; but other non-moral acts, of course, are pleasing (wohlgefällig) to God, or as practices in various religions. There is a vast category of such things, which Kant and others would certainly dismiss as meaningless, namely ritual acts which frequently constitute all the daily practice of religion. The Catholic and Orthodox Mass would stand high among objects familiar with Western religion. Immanuel Kant undoubtedly had no use for any Mass, especially with the idea that Blood and Body of Christ genuinely appear there. Yet conspicuous as this is, most kinds of prayer, and especially the required round of prayers in monasteries or in Islām, would bear only a tenuous connection, usually, to a "moral attitude." More like an attitude of devotion. Mere devotion does not make Kant's moral cut; but what we see in the Bible is rather different:

χωρὶς δὲ πίστεως ἀδύνατον εὐαρεστῆσαι·
πιστεῦσαι γὰρ δεῖ τὸν προσερχόμενον τῷ θεῷ ὅτι ἔστιν
καὶ τοῖς ἐκζητοῦσιν αὐτὸν μισθαποδότης γίνεται.

Sine fide autem inpossibile placere,
credere enim oportet accadentem ad Deum quia est
et inquirentibus se remunerator fit.

And without faith it is impossible to please him.
For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists
and that he rewards those who seek him. [Hebrews 11:6]

Does that mean anything to Kant? I doubt it. Kant uses the word "faith" (Glaube), but his faith is tied to reason and morality, while merely believing in God is rather different. Here we see God rewarding, not a "moral attitude," but faith. Similarly, al-Ghazālī had argued that commands from God are obeyed just because they are commands, not because we can understand any purpose for them, moral, prudential, or otherwise.

And, of course, all the worries about pollution that I have been recounting above will themselves be nothing but idolatry and superstition for Kant. Perhaps religions without that are better, but my feeling is that philosophy of religion ought to be descriptive rather and prescriptive. And that is a far cry from Kant's attitude.

Even in terms of "better," there is a clue there that entirely escapes Immanuel Kant. Morality is a feature of religious meaning (although not even in all religions), but it is not the main thing. Being good is not enough to make life worthwhile, since of itself it may even end up seeming pointless and empty. Something of the form of the "Beatific Vision" is required; and this goes far beyond "reason alone" (Kant's die bloße Vernunft)

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 moral 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 Stain of Sin

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" -- in Bede, the sordes vitii, the "filth of vice," and in Aquinas, the macula peccati, the "stain of sin" -- as what must be expiated.

At vero non nulli propter bona quidem opera ad electorum sortem praeordinati sed propter mala aliqua quibus polluti, de corpore exierunt post mortem severe castigandi, excipiuntur flammis ignis purgatorii; et vel usque ad diem iudicii longa huius examinatione a vitiorum sorde mundantur, vel certe prius amircorum fidelium precibus elemosinis ieiuniis fletibus et hostiae salutaris oblationibus absoluti a poenis et ipsi ad beatorum perveniunt requiem.

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. They are either, in their long ordeal up until judgment day, made clean from the stain of their vices , 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 & Latin p.262 -- color and punctuation added, translation modified -- note the anomalous sense that salvation is merited by works, or preordained, rather than by faith]

Although I do not find the expression "stain of sin" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, its treatment of Purgatory does use the language of pollution:

§1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. [An Image Book, Doubleday, 1995, p.291]

In the Kingdom of Heaven:

And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie. [Revelation 21:27]

Thus the doctrine of the "stain of sin" passed into standard Catholic theology, and we see it used by St. Thomas, as quoted by Dorothy L. Sayers in her Introduction to Dante's Purgatory [Penguin, 1955, 1965, with Latin text as cited below]:

RESPONDEO dicendum quod in peccato duo possunt considerari, scilicet actus culpae, et macula sequens. Planum est autem quod, cessante actu peccati, remanet reatus, in omnibus peccatis actualibus. Actus enim peccati facit hominem reum poenae, inquantum transgreditur ordinem divinae iustitiae; ad quem non redit nisi per quandam recompensationem poenae, quae ad aequalitatem iustitiae reducit; ut scilicet qui plus voluntati suae indulsit quam debuit, contra mandatum Dei agens, secundum ordinem divinae iustitiae, aliquid contra illud quod vellet, spontaneus vel invitus paliatur. Quod etiam in iniuriis hominibus factis observatur, ut per recompensationem poenae reintegretur aequalitas iustitiae. Unde patet quod, cessante actu peccati vel iniuriae illatae, adhuc remanet debitum poenae.

I answer that, Two things may be considered in sin; the guilty act and the consequent stain. Now it is evident that in all actual sins, when the act of sin has ceased the guilt remains; for the act of sin makes man deserving of punishment, in so far as he transgresses the order of divine justice, to which he cannot return except he pay some sort of penal compensation which restores him to the equality of justice. Hence, according to the order of divine justice, he who has been too indulgent to his will, by transgressing God's commandment, suffers, either willingly or unwillingly, something contrary to what he would wish. This restoration of the equality of justice by penal compensation is also to be observed in injuries done to one's fellow-men. Consequently, it is evident that when the sinful or injurious act has ceased, there still remains the debt of punishment.

Sed si loquamur de ablatione peccati quantum ad maculam, sic manifestum est quof macula peccati ab anima auferri non potest, nisi per hoc quod anima Deo coniungitur, per cuius distantiam detrimentum proprii nitoris incurrebat, quod est macula, ut supra dictum est. Coniungitur autem homo Deo per voluntatem. Unde macula peccati ab homine tolli non potest nisi voluntas hominis ordinem divinae iustitiae acceptet, ut scilicet vel ipse poenam sibi spontaneus assumat in recompensationem culpae praeteritae, vel etiam a Deo illatam patienter sustineat, utroque enim modo poena rationem satisfactionis habit. Poena autem satisfactoria diminuit aliquid de ratione poenae. Est enim de ratione poenae quod sit contra voluntatem. Poena autem satisfactoria, etsi secundum absolutam considerationem sit contra voluntatem, tamen tunc, et pro hoc, est voluntaria. Unde simpliciter est voluntaria, secundum quid autem involuntaria, sicut patet ex his quae supra de voluntario et involuntario dicta sunt. Dicendum est ergo quod, remota macula culpae, potest quidem remanere reatus non poenae simpliciter, sed satisfactoriae.

But if we speak of the removal of sin as to the stain, it is evident that the stain of sin cannot be removed from the soul without the soul being united to God, since it was through being separated from Him that it suffered the loss of its splendour, in which the stain consists, as stated above (I-II, q.86, a.1). Now man is united to God by his will. Wherefore the stain of sin cannot be removed from man, unless his will accepts the order of divine justice; that is to say, unless either of his own accord he take upon himself the punishment of his past sin, or bear patiently the punishment which God inflicts upon him; and in both ways punishment has the character of satisfaction. Now when punishment is satisfactory, it loses somewhat of the nature of punishment: for the nature of punishment is to be against the will; and although satisfactory punishment, absolutely speaking, is against the will, nevertheless, in this particular case and for this particular purpose, it is voluntary. Consequently it is voluntary simply, but involuntary in a certain respect, as we have explained when speaking of the voluntary and the involuntary (I-II,q.6.a.6). We must therefore say that, when the stain of sin has been removed, there may remain a debt of punishment, not indeed of punishment absolutely, but of satisfactory punishment. [Sayers, pp.58-59, citing Summa Theologica, I.II, q.87, ad 7; Latin Text, The Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Volume IV, Prima Secundae, Q.71-114, NovAntiqua, 2010, Question 87, Article 6, pp.194-194; English text of Sayers completed and slightly modified from this latter source; color added]

The curious thing about this passage is that St. Thomas seems to implicitly deny that Salvation in Christ remits the punishment that is merited by sin. The "debt of punishment" is discharged for all on the Cross. If this passage is relevant to the doctrine of Purgatory, then we might understand from St. Thomas that Purgatory is a place of punishment and that even "when the stain of sin has been removed," we are still liable for the "debt of punishment," which will be discharged in Purgatory. Even Bede might still be interpreted that way.

Thus, this passage appears to recognize no difference between punishment and expiation, which, if our sins are forgiven in Christ, will be the only basis for the existence of Purgatory. Indeed, it is on these terms that Protestants, and now many Catholics, reject Purgatory altogether, whereby the forgiveness and remission of sin, by exempting us from real punishment in Hell, opens the door directly to Heaven.

The doctrine in St. Thomas (or Bede) thus does not look fully formed in the relevant moral and religious terms. Sayers does not notice or acknowledge this but, in her own discussion, improves it somewhat. Thus, she says that a sin or a crime results in a culpa, which is "offense, fault, blame, guilt," etc. The culpa merits punishment, which is delivered by secular justice but is forgiven, in Christ, by divine justice. She then says:

What is left to be done in Purgatory is the purging of the reatus, so far as there may not have been time or opportunity to do this on earth, and, especially, the cleansing of the soul from the stain of sin. By this is meant the damage done to the soul by the habit of sinfulness... [p.58]

The "stain of sin," macula peccati, is thus associated with, in contrast to the culpa, the reatus. But Sayers fails to define this interesting word. Yet reatus means no more than "the state or condition of being an accused person," "an accusation, charge" [Oxford Latin Dictionary, Volume II, P.G.W. Glare, 1982, 2012, p.1738]. As a legal and external term, this looks like a poor choice to describe something that is "the damage done to the soul." Perhaps Sayers has searched for a term that is actually not provided by St. Thomas. She admits, "The above is a summary of the Doctrine of Purgatory as generally held by Catholics. Not every item in it is de fide" [p.60]. Perhaps the reatus is one of those items.

However, something of the sort is needed, and Sayers has the correct instinct. If the culpa, punishment, and Hell are remitted by Salvation, then what remains as "damage done to the soul," the "stain of sin," is a pollution that is expiated in Purgatory. Morally, why there is such pollution is because, as I have examined elsewhere, the malevolence that damages the soul is not, as such, removed by punishment. It would be better for Sayers to supply the source of the "stain," not in the "habit of sinfulness," but in the inner malevolence of the act, which is not itself remedied by punishment, but is desired in repentance.

The unrepentant criminal, who has served his time, but who then understands the evil of his actions and sincerely repents them, will also understand that the harm done to his own will, which was not touched by external punishment, requires action in its own right. And that action is expiation through penance, which the criminal will seek for the solace it will provide. When St. Thomas puzzles over the voluntary or involuntary nature of punishment, he has missed the ground of a division. Punishment is involuntary, but penance is voluntary. It cannot be otherwise: Expiation is only an issue for the penitent. In these terms, Sayers' contrast between culpa and reatus matches the legal contrast between the actus reus, which is external, and the mens rea, which is internal. Indeed, reatus, reus, and rea are all from the same word, res, "thing, affair" (Greek πρᾶγμα, Chinese ), with the addition of a judicial sense (that the Greek and Chinese words don't have) of guilt, accusation, or legal liability.

Notice that in the third Star Wars movie [1983], Darth Vader, merely by a change of heart, is exempted from both punishment and guilt, despite having murdered perhaps billions of people, and not a small number by his own hand. This should alert us that the Star Wars mythology of Geroge Lucas, despite its reputation as (naively) representing the clash of good vs. evil, is morally deficient. Vader expresses no contrition and is presented as the moral equal of Obi-wan and Yoda. This is outrageous. Ghost [1990] made more sense morally.

Thus, not just in Catholicism or Christianity, but in generalized terms of religious morality, 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 (μίασμα) was the same, although with the Greeks the pollution was from the mere acts, not from any inner will or intention. 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 will be by religious, i.e. ritual (Chinese ), means. Prayer, fasting, and other ritual acts will do it, or, in turn, the Intercession of Saints, Indulgences granted by the Church, Bede's "petitions, almsgiving, fasting, weeping, and oblation of the saving sacrificial offering by their faithful friends," or the power of the Vow of Amitābha, will all be germane to the issue [note].

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.

Also, since Protestants do not believe in Purgatory or the "stain of sin," we see the phenomenon of the "Born Again," who may have previously been guilty of crimes, proceed without any evidence of guilt or contrition for what they may have done. We may begin to suspect that their repentance was not exactly sincere and that they never felt much in the way of real guilt. Jesus has simply wiped that all out. We may feel that Jesus has gone too easy on them, a problem less likely to occur with Catholics -- where the reputation is that they are likely to continue feeling guilty for things that they shouldn't. To truly repent, one must be ready, not just to accept punishment, but to labor to make good the harm that may have been caused, meriting the forgiveness of victims.

Although a dispute for the need for punishment or purgation for evil may be thought of as peculiarly Christian, it is not. Islām in its early days had to deal with the claims of the Khārijites 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 Islāmic 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. As it happens, this heresy returned in the doctrine of the Wahhābīs, who were consistently declared heretics until the power of the Saudi state tended to legitimize them. Because of this, Jihadists making war on other Muslims in now not unusual; and while Western "Crusaders" are accused of killing Muslims, many more Muslims have been killed by the Jihadists.

Thus, in Orthodox Islām, in properly polynomic fashion, moral goodness varied independently with the means of salvation. Even more interesting, however, is the case of the Jōdo Shin Shū, , the "True Pure Land," Sect of Buddhism in Japan. Shinran (1174-1268) founded Jōdo Shin in 1224 and taught that rebirth in the Pure Land of the Buddha Amitābha (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 Jōdo 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 Islām 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

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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 1;
Religion in M*A*S*H

The successful movie MASH, or M*A*S*H [1970], based on Richard Hooker's book, seriously reduced and rewrote the status and nature of Father John Patrick Mulcahy (played by René Auberjonois). He becomes no more than a peripheral and faintly ridiculous, albeit amiable, often bumbling or flustered, character.

The "Swampmen," i.e. Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland, recently the evil President in the Hunger Games movies), Duke (Tom Skerritt, memorable as Captain Dallas in Alien), and Trapper John (Elliott Gould, in so many movies, including Little Murders), although not unkind or hostile, do not take him or his religious services seriously. He is certainly not one of their drinking buddies or fellow conspirators in some of their schemes, as he is in the book.

At one point in the movie, the Father is giving last rites to a patient who has died in the OR. The informed Catholic will already detect the falseness of this. Last rites are administered to the living, not to the dead. So we know right away that this incident has been thought up by someone unfamiliar with the religion.

In any case, Hawkeye calls the priest away, not to help with prayers for his own patient, but actually to assist in the surgery, with a remark that the dead man doesn't need help, but the living patient does.

This incident is not in the book, as it obviously would not be. The implication in the movie is that the rites or prayers of the priest are unnecessary and unhelpful, for the living or the dead. But that is the opposite of the message in the book (cf. On Miracles). In fact, Father Mulcahy is the equal of the Swampmen in drinking, humor, and gravitas; and when he rebukes them, it is a weightier matter than similar corrections from Colonel Blake.

The proper casting for Father Mulcahy would have been Jack Warden (1920-2006), who was red-haired, half Irish, at one time a professional boxer, and who played a football coach in Heaven Can Wait [1978]. He is exactly what Father Mulcahy should have looked like and been like. Warden would have had no difficulty holding his own against the "Swampmen." Too late now.

So, we might wonder, why was the character of Father Mulcahy rewritten so thoroughly for the movie? Someone doesn't have any respect for religion, or knowledge of it. It is not clear whether the director, Robert Altman (1925-2006), is responsible. I have not otherwise gotten an anti-religious vibe from his other movies, although apparently, if he read the book, he has no problem with the rewrite.

On the other hand, the script for MASH was written by none other than Ring Lardner, Jr. (1915-2000), who was one of the "Hollywood Ten." They were movie industry insiders called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 to testify about the presence and influence of Communists in Hollywood (by the way, long before anyone had heard of Senator Joe McCarthy). Lardner, like most of the other witnesses, refused to testify, but he also did not give the Fifth Amendment as a reason for not doing so (as did subsequent figures, like Dashiell Hammett). Thus, he was charged with Contempt of Congress, convicted, and sentenced to prison for it. Hollywood producers put him on their infamous Black List. He thus became a martyr and hero of the anti-American and anti-anti-Communist (pro-Communist?) Left.

If Lardner was a Communist, what attitude toward religion would he have? One not unlike what we see in the movie of MASH. And it was all gratuitious. There was otherwise no reason to disparage Father Mulcahy, his beliefs, or his services. In fact, the hard drinking, realistic, friendly Catholic priest is someone not unfamiliar both in fiction and in the experience of many. Ayn Rand, no friend of religion herself, nevertheless complained that HUAC did not allow her to testify about the Communist messages that were being put in Hollywood movies. MASH, as a clearly anti-war movie in the Vietnam War era, also contains some of those messages. Father Mulcahy has suffered for it.

Nevertheless, Richard Hooker's attitude towards religion is not uncritical. When Hawkeye and Duke arrive at the MASH unit, they are sent to bunk with Major Jonathan Hobson, about whom Hooker says, "The fortunes of war had given him a job for which he was unprepared, and associated him with people he could not comprehend" [p.17]. Returning from their first rotation in surgery, Hawkeye and Duke find Hobson on his knees praying. Duke comments, "I think he's a [Holy] Roller" [ibid.]. Neither Hawkeye nor Duke care much for this, not the least because the Southerner Duke "did not wish to accept salvation from a Yankee evangelist" [p.21]. Hawkeye then tells Colonel Blake to "get that sky pilot out of our tent" [p.22].

Of course, that line is in the movie, but Major Hobson is not. His entire part was folded into the character of Major Frank Burns, where the objections of the Swampmen, including Trapper John, are more professional and more personal. Both Duke and Trapper John assault Burns for his incompetence. Duke's fight was left out of the movie. The beef about Burns was his incompetence, but it is a reasonable and efficient creative choice that the odium of Major Hobson should be coupled with him.

But it is noteworthy that Duke was annoyed that Hobson was a "Yankee." Duke's background also comes up in relation to Father Mulcahy, after he began to help in the OR:

This was all to the good, except that Duke Forrest became somewhat bothered. Protestantism was strong in him, and close association with an accredited representative of the opposition caused occasional qualms. [p.37]

Duke even asks Father Mulcahy if "one of my boys couldn't do as well?" [ibid.]. Mulcahy actually answers, "I'm sure he could" [p.38]. Unfortunately, the Protestant Chaplain was "Shaking Sammy," whose "fixes" were ineffective and who was otherwise more than a bit of a fool. "Guess I'll have to stick with the bead-jiggler," concluded Duke [ibid.].

Duke and Hawkeye then decide to offer a tribute to Father Mulcahy by burning "Shaking Sammy" as a human sacrifice [p.39]. With real gasoline, they could have done it, but it was, of course, a joke. But it was not well received by Sammy, of course, or Colonel Blake, who tried to arrest them, or Father Mulcahy, who, "disillusioned and disapponted," rebuked the Swampmen. Hawkeye has an interesting answer:

I'm perfectly serious now. I'm not going to apologize to Shaking Sammy. I despise quack doctors, and for the same good reasons I despise quack sky pilots and all the screwballs on the fringe of the do-gooding business. So forget it. [p.42]

This, indeed, is a perfectly sensible statement. No part of the incident, of course, is in the movie. And it is also obvious that Hawkeye does not consider Father Mulcahy one of these "quack sky pilots." The dislike for Major Hobson or "Shaking Sammy" is not a general condemnation of religion, and of the Swampmen we are given to understand that Duke actually takes his own religion with some seriousness. That is part of his problem, for better or worse, with both Father Mulcahy and Major Hobson.

Conclusion of OR Scene

On Hollywood


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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 2

These verses from the Qurʾān (69:40-42), are noteworthy for a number of reasons. First of all, there is simply the sense of it. They deny that the Prophet Muḥammad is either a poet or a "seer." He is a "messenger," رَسُول, rasūl.

What's the difference? Well, a messenger simply delivers a "message," رِسَالَة, risālah. A "seer," كَاهِن, kāhin, among other things, fortells the future. I have noted in these pages a couple examples of seers, actually "seeresses," women, in one case in the story of the Ghassanids, the other in the leader of resistance to the Arab invasion of North Africa. In both cases a كَاهِنَة, kāhinah. A poet, in turn, makes aesthetically pleasing verses.

While the poetry of the Qurʾān is often noted, and Muḥammad does occasionally predict the future (see the prediction that the Romans will defeat the Persians), the point is that these are things that can be done by others, and they are not primarily the job of the prophet -- Arabic نَبِي, nabī, cognate to Hebrew נָבִיא, nābhīʾ. The Message of God is what properly distinguishes him. This is an important issue, not just for Islāmic theology, but for philosophy of religion. It is not clear that Immanuel Kant, Jakob Fries, or, particularly, Leonard Nelson, actually believe in religious Revelation.

This kind of attitude follows a certain tradition of Mediaeval Neoplatonic philosophy in Judaism and Islām. Religion is seen as philosophy by other means, in which philosophical teaching is formulated in forms comprehensible to the (ignorant) masses. In those terms, Kant presents religion as essentially a moral teaching. Fries adds that it can be aesthetically pleasing. And Nelson seems to see religious fulfillment in political activity. The break of Rudolf Otto from this approach enables him to more perspicaciously describe the phenomena, the phenomenology, of religion, but it also motivates a harsh, rationalist attack on him by someone like Lenn Goodman.

These verses from the Qurʾān thus falsify the philosophy of religion of Kant, Fries, Nelson, and Goodman. Revelation may be moral and aesthetic, but it is considerably more, especiallly by mandating the religious rituals that are foolishness to all right thinking rationalists. The Word of God is not, as such, the dictate of reason alone. Nor is it magical, which is a sense that clings to the meaning of "seer." It is supernatural, breaking into nature from the outside, something that puts the rationalist, not to mention the atheist, into a kind delirium tremens. The essence of this will be the means of Salvation, whose terms may involve morality, and even miracles, but will properly encompass faith and (ritual) practice, neither of which is really comprehensible to reason.

Another matter of interest in the quoted verses is in particular the grammar of the second clauses in verses 69:41 and 69:42. Each contains the expression قَلِيلًا مَا, qalīlan mā, followed by finite verbs in the second person plural.

The word مَا simply means "not." Before this is a word derived from قَلِيل, qalīl, "little, few, small." This becomes قَلِيلًا, qalīlan, by the addition of a "nunation" in the accusative case, which makes the word an adverb. As such, Hans Wehr glosses it as, "a little, somewhat, seldom, rarely" [A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Cornsell U. Press, 1966, p.783]. The full expression قَلِيلًا مَا is then an idiom glossed by Wehr as "seldom, rarely."

In verse 69:41 the finite verb is from the root أَمُنَ, ʽamuna, "to be faithful, reliable, trustworthy" [Wehr, p.28]. In the IV form, آمَنَ, ʽāmana, this simply means "to believe." What we then see in the verse is the IV form second person masculine imperfect indicative plural, تُؤْمِنُونَ. The paradigm for this form of the verb can be inspected in Ziadeh and Winder, An Introduction to Modern Arabic, Princeton U. Press, p. 1957, p.194.

We can then translate the whole clause as "Seldom/rarely do you believe." "How little you (all) believe" goes back to the noun and the adverb from which the embedded idiom derives, otherwise we might be confused by the use of the negation, which might make it look like the clause is saying, "Rarely you do not believe," which is the opposite of what we expect.

In verse 69:42 the finite verb is from the root ذَكَرَ, ðakara (usually written dhakara or dhakara), "to remember, bear in mind, think" [Wehr p.310]. However, this verb is used in the V form, تَذَكَّرَ, taðakkara, which doubles the medial consonant and adds a prefix. Thus, the sense of this will be "to remember, bear in mind."

The V form second person masculine imperfect indicative plural is then تَذَكَّرُونَ, taðakkarūna [Ziadeh and Winder, p.198]. We can then translate the whole clause as "Seldom/rarely do you remember." The translation above, "to attend," seems to fit the II form of the verb, which also has a doubled medial letter (making a causative), like the V, but the first vowel of the finite form settles the question. In the II form, we would see تُذَكَّرُونَ, tuðakkarūna [Ziadeh and Winder, p.186].

A curious feature about this passage goes back to the expression قَلِيلًا مَا, qalīlan mā, which is actually written قَلِيلًا مَّا, qalīlan mmā, where a diacritic indicates that the "m" on the negation is doubled. Why would that be? What I suspect is that the "n" on the nunation of the first word is assimilated to the "m," replacing the "n" with the doubled "m," as qalīlam mā. Otherwise, this doesn't make any sense. I see no other reason for the "m" to be doubled. It is more euphonic.

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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 3

ἅγιος, hágios, and ἁγνός, hagnós, both derive from τὸ ἅγος, hágos (genitive, ἅγεος, hágeos), "any matter of religious awe; that which requires expiation, a curse, pollution, guilt; the person or thing accursed, an abomination; an expiation; in a good sense, =σέβας, awe." Note that σέβας, sébas (neuter, no genitive or plurals), is "reverential awe, a feeling of awe; generally, reverence, worship; the object of awe, holiness, majesty; and object of wonder, a wonder." From that we get the Greek equivalent of Latin augustus, σεβαστός, sebastós, "reverenced, august."

The curious thing about ἅγος is that it encompasses the opposites of "religious awe" and "pollution" or a "curse." This might reinforce the idea in James Frazer, as we will see, that these are the same thing, and, "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." The simple meaning of "religious awe," derived from the verb ἅζομαι, házomai, "to stand in awe of, dread," however, might apply generally to any supernatural phenomenon, which would indeed include holiness and also curses and pollution. We see this ambiguity in English with the words "awful" and "awesome," which could mean the same thing, but don't (or not any more). Expiation, in turn, takes someone cursed or polluted and restores them to purity, who then qualifies to be associated with sacred things.

The word ἁγνός ends up with a meaning a little different from ἅγιος. Thus, Liddell & Scott say that it means, "full of religious awe; hallowed, holy, sacred; chase, pure; pure from blood, guiltess; pure, upright." The senses here of purity, the chaste, guiltless, etc. lead to the New Testament use of ἡ ἁγνότης, hagnótês "purity, chastity" (genitive, ἁγνότητος, hagnótêtos), which we see among the seven "heavenly virtues." We also get the nice New Testament term ἁγιωσύνη, hagiosýnê, "holiness, sanctity," which goes back to ἅγιος.

The multiple words for "awe" here may excite some curiosity about the reason for their multiplicity, and so the ways in which the meanings may differ. As we have seen, ἅγος begins with religious awe but then shades over into curses and pollution, and back again. In this there is some similarity to τὸ δέος, déos (genitive, δέους, déous), "fear, alarm, affright; awe, reverence." Awe and reverence now have overtones of fear, which would be appropriate for any powerful or supernatural phenomenon, but without quite the same negative valence as with ἅγος. On the other hand, from δέος we have the derived adjective δεινός, deinós, "fearful, terrible, dread, dire; mighty, powerful; wondrous, marvellous, strange; powerful, wondrous, able, clever, skillful." Here we have something that begins very negative but then drifts back into "wondrous" and even "clever." This is a remarkable range of meanings, although when Theophanes Confessor talks about the πάνδεινα κακά, pándeina kaká, "all terrible evils," his meaning is in no doubt.

Then we have σέβας, which is "reverential awe," etc. apparently without the negative or frightening associations or connections. Thus, σεβαστός conveys a sense of majesty without any threat or cause for worry. It is "awe" without reservations.

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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 4

There is another word in Greek that can mean "hallowed" and so perhaps "holy," along with ἅγιος. That would be ὅσιος, hósios, with its opposite, ἀνόσιος, anósios. We quickly see that we are dealing with something different from ἅγιος and ἱερός, however, when these words are applied to individuals:  ὅσιος is "pious, devout, religious" [Liddell & Scott, Intermediate Greek Lexicon, p.572], while ἀνόσιος is "impious." The ὅσιος individual is not himself holy or sacred, but he is cognizant and observant of the holy. Thus, the entire discussion of Plato's Euthyphro is about τὸ ὅσιον and τὸ ἀνόσιον, "the pious" and "the impious" [5d], and ὁσία is just "piety" or "the service owed by man to God."

But there are other interesting aspects to ὅσιος. Liddell & Scott report that it means, not just "hallowed," but "sanctioned by the law of God," contrasted with δίκαιος, the right and just "sanctioned by human law." This is what we would expect from the pious. But there is something else. They say that ὅσιος also contrasts with ἱερός in the sense that it is "permitted or not forbidden by divine law," i.e. "profane," Latin profanus. Thus, the semantic range of ὅσιος would seem to encompass what excludes the impious, the polluted, or the unholy. This is especially striking when we find in Liddell & Scott the definition for ἀνόσιος as not just "unholy" but also "profane, Lat. profanus" [p.74]. So, acccording to Liddell & Scott, both ὅσιος and ἀνόσιος mean profanus, a remarkable identity. There is clearly some confusion here, which depends on the proper meaning of profanus.

Cassell's New Latin Dictionary [Funk & Wagnalls, 1960], defines profanus as "lying before a temple, i.e. outside it; hence, not sacred, ordinary, common, profane" [p.476]. Now, it is possible that ὅσιος has a different range of meaning than profanus, but we may feel some concern or confusion if it ends up that ὅσιος and ἀνόσιος can mean the same thing, when Socrates obviously sees them as opposites, as we might imagine from the form of the words (although this doesn't work with "flammable" and "infammable," which mean the same thing in English). The key perhaps is that there is part of the range of "profane" that is neither holy nor unholy, neither sacred nor polluted. If ὅσιος contrast both with ἱερός and with what is "forbidden by divine law," then it fits in that range.

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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 5

The French sacré is a past participle from sacrer, a verb which now means "to anoint, to crown" as well as "consecrate," but also "to curse and swear." We can use participles, of course, as adjectives, which is how we usually see sacré.

It is irrelevant to our worries about the sacred, but I see some similar modifications of endings 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, Νεάπολις. So English sailors, from whom "Naples" certainly derives, who probably didn't know Greek, reacted to the appearance of the name in Italian.

In French we also get the occasional puzzle with plurals, since "London" turns up as Londres, with an "s." "London" does not seem to have ever been a plural, in English or Latin (Londinium), so I have no explanation why it would be a plural in French.

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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 6

[34] ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως... [37] ἔστω δὲ ὁ λόγος ὑμῶν ναὶ ναί, οὒ οὔ· τὸ δὲ περισσὸν τούτων ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἐστιν.

[34] Ego autem dico vobis, non jurare omnino... [37] Sit autem sermo vester, est, est: non, non: quod autem his abundantius est, a malo est.

[34] But I say unto you, Swear not at all... [37] But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Matthew 5:34,37

Bad language derives from different parts of the semantic field of religious terms. Thus, bad language can be called "profanity," "swearing," "cursing" ("cussin'"), "oaths," etc. A new treatment of bad language is John McWhorter's Nine Nasty W*rds, English in the Gutter: Then, New, and Forever [Avery, Penguin, 2021].

The basic term of "profanity" places us outside the temple. However, oaths and curses are things that might properly be done in the temple. You swear an oath to testify and to serve on a jury or in public office. Christians are sometimes troubled by this, because of what Jesus says, quoted above, and so a provision is made for the conscientious to solemnly "affirm" rather than swear. A lot of trouble follows from oaths that are sworn inthe Mahābhārata, where there is no objection to such things.

Similarly, there is no general objection to oaths in the Old Testament, only the caution of Exodus 20:7: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain [, ἐπὶ ματαίῳ, in vanum]." Similarly, there is usually a place in religion for curses. An anathema (ἀνάθεμα) was pronounced by the Jewish community of the Netherlands against the philosopher Baruch Spinoza for the heterodoxy of his ideas. Religious authorities in Israel have not lifted the curse.

So in Jewish terms, there will be a boundary between proper oaths and curses and those "in vain" that will be improper. Thus, the simple expression "I swear to God," which some people use a lot, does not serve a genuine religious purpose and is never pronounced as such in a solemn and appropriate manner. The "bad" word "damn" is, of course generally used as a curse. "Damn it!" "Damn you!" "Damn you to hell!" etc. get used to express anger or frustration, at persons or things. This would be "cursing" as "profanity," since the purpose is actually profane and not in an appropriately religious context.

Curses or swearing oaths without religious sanction offend religion, and are thus "profanity," but "blasphemy" would be invocations of religion that are regarded, not just as violations of piety, but as actual attacks on religion. People are still executed or murdered extrajudicially for this in the Islamic world. Someone was executed for blasphemy in Scotland as late as the 17th century -- Thomas Aikenhead (1676-1697).

Other profanity is unrelated to religion. References to sex or excretion may offend as "obscene" or a socially offensive impropriety. They also may reflect anger and frustration, like oaths. Thus, a minor accident of daily life, resulting in some damage or inconvience, may be accompanied by "Shit!" or "Fuck!" Anger or hostility to others may be expressed as "Fuck you!" The latter, of course, may express an attenuated or symbolic desire or intention to commit a sexual assault.

British profanity, but not American, has involved references to anal sex, i.e. "buggery." This was a capital "crime against nature," sodomy, which seems to have incurred the extreme penalty more in the Royal Navy than in the courts on land. The force of an accusation has become attenuated, but considerable hostility can still be expressed with, "Bugger off!" Americans would say "Fuck off!" But the term can also be used, like "Shit!" just to express frustration. A classic example of that was at the end of an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1970. This had a series of famous sketches involving the "Spanish Inquisition." The final sketch is cut short by the ending of the show; and Michael Palin, as "Cardinal Ximénez," can be heard on audio, as the credits run, saying "Oh, bugger!" The BBC had no problem with that -- it was already allowing the occasional bare breast on television (the "BBC breast"; unlike American television, even basic cable, even now).

American language, of course, is not free of references to anal sex. An example would be Frank Zappa's song, "Valley Girl" [1982], where Zappa's daughter Moon refers to one of her teachers as "Mr. Bu-Fu." This means that he is a homosexual, and "Bu-Fu" abbreviates "butt fuck." This is less "profanity" than it is a disparaging reference to homosexuals. The objection to them seems to be aesthetic rather than moral or religious, which are not the level of discourse of the song. As such, like ethnic or racial disparaging references, it would only very indirectly be related to religious value, if at all -- except where politics replaces religion in popular culture, which is something to be considered. Homosexuals now fall into a political class that has become all but sacred, of which no ill can be spoken.

Sex and excretion may be seen as having a certain relation to religion. They involve pollution. Sex is often regarded as polluting, for which purification is needed. Unsanctioned sex also offends religion, as Prospero warns Ferdinand and Miranda in The Tempest. Excretion is also polluting, but in a much more general sense than particular offenses in religion -- although "buggery" deftly combines the problems of excretion and "unnatural" intercourse. The Islamic requirement to wash before prayer certainly addresses general problems of becoming soiled from various sources. In Judaism, an actual ritual bath, the miqveh, , may be needed for purification. Pollution also results from the spilling of blood, and profanity exists in relation to that also. The British exclamation "Bloody!" used to be regarded as profane; and the pollution of menstruation can be seen behind some profanities in relation to it.

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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 7

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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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 8;
The Μοῖρα of Socrates

I don't think that there is a precise equivalent in Greek to Latin numen; but I am intrigued by translations of the word μοῖρα. This is conventionally translated "fate"; and indeed it is used as the proper name of a goddess of fate. But it has a range of other meanings. With "fate," according to Liddell & Scott [Oxford], goes "one's portion in life, lot, fate, destiny," or "one's portion or measure of life." This goes back to the word meaning basically "a part, portion, share," or a "division of people," even a political party. Then it can also mean "that which is one's due," or "respect, esteem," and what "is meet, rightly."

By contrast, numen can mean "command, consent," "divine will, divine command," and then "the might of a deity, majesty, divinity." The overlap there might be the sense that one's lot or destiny is the result of divine will or command. Fate is what befalls us, but this is the effect of the might and will of a deity -- although we sometimes get a sense in the Iliad than even the gods are subject to destiny -- Zeus cannot reverse the fate of Hector.

The meaning of these terms does seem to come from different directions. What intigues me is how, in some places, μοῖρα gets translated. One is at Apology 33c, where Socrates says that his mission "has been enjoined upon me by the god, by means of oracles and dreams, and in every other way that a divine manifestation has ever ordered a man to do anything" [G.M.A. Grube translation, Hackett, 1981, p.37].

The odd thing here is that "divine manifestation" translates θεία μοῖρα, i.e. "divine" μοῖρα. But "manifestation" doesn't seem to be quite what is in the lexicons. Similarly, the Loeb Classical Library translates it "divine power," which seems even further from the definitions, and, actually, closer to numen [W.R.M. Lamb translation, Harvard, 1914,p.121].

More of the sentence there is "commanded to do this by the God [sic] through oracles and dreams and in every way in which any man was ever commanded by divine power [θεία μοῖρα] to do anything whatsoever" [boldface added].

We get another anomalous use of μοῖρα in Plato's Phaedrus, in a passage about beauty, κάλλος, that I quote a lot. In Greek the relevant passage is:

νῦν δὲ κάλλος μόνον ταύτην ἔσχε μοῖραν [250d]

We can parse this as δὲ, "but," νῦν, "now," κάλλος, "beauty," μόνον, "alone," ἔσχε, "has," ταύτην, "this," μοῖραν, "destiny"? "power"? "manifestation"? etc.

The verb here curiously is in the aorist tense, in the form of what is called the "second aorist" of the verb ἔχω, "to have." But nobody translates this as a past tense, the usual meaning of the aorist, so we might imagine that Plato is using it for its aspect rather than its tense. The citation form for the second aorist here is ἔσχον.

In the edition of the Loeb Classical Library, where we see the Greek, the translation is:

...but beauty alone has this privilege...[translated by W.R.M. Lamb, Harvard, 1914, pp.484-485, boldface added]

In his edition and commentary, Plato's Phaedrus, R. Hackforth gives us this translation:

...for beauty alone this has been ordained... [The Library of the Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merril, 1952, p.93, boldface added]

So now we have two more extra meanings for μοῖρα, as "privilege" and "[has been] ordained," on top of "power" and "manifestation." This is predicated neither of a god nor of Socrates, but just of beauty, about its status in the nature of things. Μοῖρα is what beauty has already, and has always had, so this cannot relate to its fate or destiny, except that it will still be around for both.

Perhaps we can twist "fate" or "lot" or "destiny" into "manifestation" or "power," "privilege" or being "ordained," even while it is the numen of the god, the fate of Socrates (and Hector), and, well, the whatever of beauty. But this does leave me wondering if the usage in the Apology and the Phaedrus does expand the meaning of the word beyond what is recognized in the lexicons. Μοῖρα may indeed just end up as the Greek equivalent of numen, as divine power, something that Plato does seem to attribute to beauty.

Anthony Kaldellis has a simpler take on it:

In that passage, Sokrates [sic] is producing a classification of things. He is saying that only beauty falls into a particular category. Moira can mean that, for literally it means a subdivision, or a lot or sort. So “it is only beauty that falls into this category,” if you want to render it in hyper-modern terms. More archaically, “it is only beauty to which this lot is assigned.” [personal correspondence]

This goes back to the simplest definitions of μοῖρα, as a "lot, a part, portion, share." So beauty has this particular "share," to be "to be most clearly shown [ἐκφανέστατον] and most lovely [ἐρασμιώτατον] of them all," as is the rest of the passage. That looks pretty reasonable. The remaining mystery then would be why we get all these other translations from all these other translators -- and the case with the Phaedrus perhaps doesn't quite cover the usage in the Apology, where we have the θεία μοῖρα.

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The New Friesian Theory of Religious Value, Note 9;
The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan), by Ingmar Bergman, 1960

The classic movie The Virgin Spring, by Ingmar Bergman, is a nice example of crime, vengeance, and expiation in religion. Max von Sydow (1929-2020) -- still active in 2016 in HBO's Game of Thrones, after a cameo in the new 2015 Star Wars movie -- has a daughter, played by Birgitta Pettersson, who, while traveling to take candles to a church, is raped and murdered by two herdsmen.

The herdsmen, along with a young boy who witnessed the crime in horror and terror, end up coincidentally lodging at the home of the father himself. When von Sydow discovers that his daughter has been murdered, by these men, he personally kills all of them, including the boy, despite his obvious youth and terror. He and his wife then go and find their daughter's body. As von Syndow lifts the girl, a spring comes into being at the spot. Consumed by grief over his daughter, and distraught with the realization that he has himself killed an innocent boy, the father vows to build a church on the spot -- the spot of the miraculous "virgin spring."

A key element here is, not just the miracle and the church in tribute to the girl's innocence, but the expiation of the father's own crime and sin in killing the boy. Secular justice is unlikely to sanction him, and so his contrition, remorse, and penance must do the job both of punishment and expiation. Religion is the only consolation he has for anything that has happened.

A counterpoint in the movie is the servant (Gunnel Lindblom) who travels with the daughter, but is viciously jealous of her. She secretly still worships Odin, whom she seems to actually meet on the road. She also ends up penitent, confessing to von Sydow that she had wished for his daughter's death, which the encounter with Odin may actually have effected (although she fled from him). The servant's paganism thus may represent the evil influences, human or supernatural, that overtake the girl.


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