Resist Purity

In my recent conversation with Evangelical and multi-faith expert John Morehead, I asked him if, while having conversations with people he has strong disagreements with, he ever feels complicit in enabling beliefs that he feels are harmful or destructive to society. His answer is worth reproducing in full (edited for clarity):

The fear is that if I get too close to somebody in another religious tradition, if I’m not either just proclaiming my message or apologetically refuting their “false ideas” — I can get close to them for those reasons — but if you’re asking me to go to a space and just have a conversation, and be vulnerable, then I’m opening myself up to spiritual contamination. That is a very real fear that we have to acknowledge. My argument in response is that we need to recognize that living in the world is a dirty process, and the way one builds up immunity is by getting dirty and by being in those spaces and having that mutual contamination — being willing to mutually contaminate each other with ideas. The reality is, in interfaith, statistics indicate that most people who go through an interfaith process don’t end up converting to another religious tradition. It ends up actually confirming and strengthening your own religious commitments. That is not to say that occasionally conversions don’t take place — that’s a risk, but I think that life and depolarization in this country is worth the risk and that we need to be willing to put ourselves in a position of mutual contamination.

One of my personal Satanic mottos is “resist purity.” I have an intense allergic reaction to the niche, monochrome cultures that tend to emerge in online spaces. It is human nature to purify our social spaces — to gradually purge all disagreement, no matter how minor, and to feel the most comfortable among our ideological peers. Social media, combined with social isolation in meatspace, has escalated this process.

I choose to get dirty instead. My Satan is the great trespasser of boundaries, and I strive to follow in his footsteps. To me, being a Satanist means having a willingness to get dirty — to be stained by the ideas and stink of others. As S. Jonathan O’Donnell points out in their book Passing Orders, one of the primary features of Satan is to break through the porous boundaries of paradise. But Intellectual defilement is not only a necessity as a Satanist, it is a necessity as an engaged citizen*.

I manage a grocery store, which gives me a unique view of society. Food is a universal human need, so grocery stores tend to be one of the very few places where social boundaries become porous. On a daily basis I serve fundamentalist Christians, New Age priestesses, homeless drug addicts, teenage TikTok stars, stay-at-home moms, Muslim families, Ukrainian immigrants, Fox News-watching grandfathers, Latino laborers, LGBT+ people, gang members, and every other variation of human in my relatively small Appalachian city.

What stands out to me is how utterly alien each of these groups are to each other. I watch a trans nonbinary college student stand in line at the register next to a conservative old man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, and I realize that neither of them can give a coherent explanation of the other’s worldview without resorting to crude or offensive caricatures.

We can stand in the exact same physical space with someone, we can share a town with someone, we can vote alongside someone, and yet we cannot offer a coherent and satisfying description of each other’s beliefs. This is a catastrophe. It’s a disease, and not caring about this disease is one of its primary symptoms.

For a pluralistic and democratic society to work, we must understand each other. But “understanding” has become a vile word. It emotionally rhymes with other sentiments that people aren’t willing to offer their ideological enemies, like “empathy,” “acceptance,” “and compassion.” Or, worst of all, “agreement.” Understanding, however, doesn’t necessitate condoning a belief you find morally repugnant. It simply means the ability to articulate the belief to the satisfaction of those who believe it, and the cognitive empathy to comprehend how someone could arrive at that conclusion. But such an exercise is too close to “agreement” to be taken seriously by many of our citizenry.

This disease has spread so far and become so all consuming that my fellow lefties often can’t comprehend why I read books by conservative authors, despite the fact that reading a book is the safest and most responsible way to engage in the ideas of others. Getting intellectually contaminated is the responsibility of an engaged citizen, and it is necessary for our pluralistic democracy to function. Intellectual contamination is the cost of living in a pluralistic society.

But getting filthy is also fun. It might be an acquired taste, the same way lifting weights or running marathons is an acquired taste, but slipping in and out of intellectual worlds becomes a thrilling and fulfilling affair once you master it.

For the sake of society, for the thrill of defilement, in the name of Satan, resist purity.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on my discord server. If your comment is excellent, I might feature it in a blog post. And, if you enjoy my work, please consider becoming a patron and signing up for my newsletter.

* This does not mean that every person must engage in every idea. We have to choose our battles, and it’s ok, for example, to let someone else deal with the transphobes if you yourself are trans. Rather, I’m arguing for a greater collective shift towards resisting purity, but that will look different for each individual.

Photo by Melanie P on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Resist Purity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.