A few months ago I was asked by Third Way magazine to write them an article on one of the issues raised in the book. Those who have read the book will realise that one of the things that has interested me – through the thinking we’ve done at Vaux over the past few years – is the idea of ‘dirt’.
Defining what is clean and what is dirty is one of the main ways a society creates itself. And those who cross dirt boundaries threaten the very structure of that society. Mary Douglas defines dirt in her work ‘Purity and Danger’ as ‘matter out of place’. A Coke can in a ploughed field is dirt. But move the can to the fridge, and the mud from the field becomes the dirt – in other words, it’s relative to place.
This is a potential cause of great friction between societies or ideologies: what one group consider clean, another considers filthy. What one considers totally unacceptable, another considers fine.
As we mull in the aftermath of the bomb attacks in London last week, we are forced to wonder what drove a teacher, a young dad, a cricket fan to strap explosives to themselves and wreak havoc. What ‘dirt’ were they trying to expunge, or what unclean society were they trying to bring down?
The true mark of a balanced and free society is how it treats ‘the other’ – those from outside its boundaries. In other words, how does it deal with dirt? In order to work towards these sort of attacks being a thing of the past we actually need to think carefully about what it is that these people might find so repugnant about our way of life…
I tried to reflect on these issues in the article, and look at whether Christ’s own dealings with dirt boundaries offered us any way forward for standing in the face of terrorism. I’m pretty sure his actions towards those who are ‘other’ hold some valuable lessons for us.
You can download a copy of the article from here.