I wonder what you feel more strongly about. Impure thoughts or impure environment? Perhaps you are occupied by smog, land surfaces contaminated by industrial waste, plants and fish harmed by untreated chemicals discharged into lakes and rivers, or human disturbance caused by noisy construction or transport near residential areas?
Or perhaps what concerns you more than the physical environment is the social climate in which we live. Political coverups, corruption in high places, decline of professional sportsmanship, and huge disparity between the rich and poor. Your own list may be longer. For when we have an ideal then we realise how far reality falls short. When we have a sense of what is good then we notice what is bad. Don’t we hope for unspoilt land for human habitation, water courses teeming with healthy fish, fairness in public discourse and decision-making showing respect and care, untarnished by greed, and unsullied by envy?
Just as there is impurity around about us are there not also impure thoughts in individual thinking? A letter in the Times newspaper from a woman in North Yorkshire explained that having loaded some software on her computer to protect the visiting grandchildren from porn, she found that as soon as she tried to buy undergarments on-line by typing the word “knickers” a strong message appeared rebuking her for searching for salacious content!
This notion of impure thoughts of salacious content might be strange to those who do not agree about what can be unethical in sexual conduct. This is not to say that a healthy appetite is bad but rather that when we start to crave for such things then we are subject to less than pure habits of thought. The binge eater as well as the sexual addict spring to mind.
I suspect people don’t always recognise what I see as impure thoughts encountered in television video, film, and novels. But are not greedy intentions, and craving for sexual gratification regardless of human relationship two examples of impure thinking?
Whenever anyone starts to lay down the law about what is right and wrong, pure and impure thoughts then there is a natural human tendency to resist and rebel. But sometimes don’t we need to see what is bad before we fully know what is good? To experience what is impure before wanting to be pure?
Writing in the Daily Mirror newspaper the journalist Fiona Phillips told the story of when her two boys then aged seven and five were mucking about on the computer. They typed in the word ‘booby’ into Google and what they then saw made them gasp out loud. It was a vile sado-masochistic mutilation scene. It is of course a tragedy that young minds were exposed to such behaviour.
Perhaps some adults need to be shocked by the extremes of impure thoughts before they realise the importance of pure motives. More decency instead of vileness, more caring rather than hurtfulness, more love rather than cruelty.
I would suggest that focusing on what is good makes resisting what is bad a lot easier.
“The more we reflect on the notion of purity, the more we realise how imperfect our best emotions are.” (H.T.Hamblin)
But it seems easier to define the absence of pure thought than its presence. Most dictionaries define purity in terms of absence of impurity eg uncontaminated, unmixed, unadulterated.
What we need also is a definition that focuses on its positive meaning. I suspect the dictionary writers had a problem in doing this for purity is a spiritual concept and as such is ineffable ie difficult or impossible to put into words. Never mind here goes! What about exemplary, complete, pristine, clean, virtuous, modest, wholesome, healthy? Are these qualities what purity implies?
You may have heard of the following saying:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matt 5:8)
Yet they might wonder is it really possible for anyone to become more pure? The religious answer is yes there is a process of purification. It is symbolized in the ritual of baptism which is washing to make us clean. Bathing in water may wash off the sweat and grime but
Christ is saying what needs to be made clean is also the inside of the person.
Perhaps we all need to clean our impure thoughts within. This means being on the watch for those thoughts that seem to arise from out of the ether. Thoughts of resentment, envy, immoral sexual desire, greed, and so on.
An academic researcher found the remains of a medieval backgammon set on the site of the first motte-and-bailey castle in Gloucester. It was made of red deer bone, decorated with pornography, drinking and feasting. He seemed to think that the former owner of the set smashed it up, threw it in a rubbish pit and retired to become a monk in Wales.
I strongly believe that just as impure thoughts seem to come from nowhere they can also leave – as long as we consciously turn our back on them.
“Whatever a person carries out from himself cannot be good since it has come from self, an impure and most unclean origin. From that impure and most unclean origin no good can possibly emerge, for the individual is thinking all the time about his own merit.” (Emanuel Swedenborg Arcana Coelestia 874)
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problem