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J.A.A. Purves

Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World (2012)

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It's a book. I couldn't bring myself to put this in the "Literature & Creative Writing" forum. I'm punishing myself and reading it so that I can write a book review for it. I'm writing a book review for it because it seems to be a parody-like distillation of a church teaching I've been up against for years. I seem to remember a few of you noticing (perhaps it was on Facebook) some of the ads for the book when it came out back in May. This was one of them:

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Here's one excerpt which provides a good demonstration both of the writing and theological style of the entire book. It's from Chapter 10, "Germ Warfare: Cleansing Our Lives of Cultural Toxins" and is filed under the chapter heading of "Pooped Out", pgs. 183-185:

... Here's the best illustration that I know of this timeless truth. A loving mother demonstrated this principle to her son, Cade. When his friends invited him over to watch a movie, one just released on DVD and rated PG-13, Cade begged his mom to let him see it. His mom asked him her usual questions, "Buddy, is it a good movie? One that won't hurt your Christian walk?"

Knowing it had some less than appropriate scenes, Cade shuffled from one foot to the other and searched for the right words. Not wanting to lie to his mom, he tried to walk on the edge of the truth. "Well, it's not as bad as a lot of movies," he said enthusiastically. "And all my friends have seen it. There's only a little bit of bad stuff in it." He held his breath, awaiting his mom's final verdict on this movie-going fate.

His mom smiled and said, "Well, of course, honey. As long as there's only 'a little bit of bad stuff in it.'" Cade was stunned! Before she changed her mind, the grateful teen bolted for his room, texted his friends the good news, then lost himself in his favorite iPad game.

Now if you're a parent, you probably already know that Cade's mom had something up her sleeve. She headed to the kitchen and started implementing her plan. Selecting her son's favorite brownie mix from the pantry, she added the requisite water, eggs, and oil, stirring the mixture together in a big white bowl. While the oven preheated, Cade's crafty mom strolled in the grass, she scooped up something that their dog Ginger had recently left behind.

She returned to the kitchen, stirred in a teaspoon of Ginger's secret ingredient, poured the thick, chocolate batter into a nonstick pan, and set the oven timer for twenty minutes. Just as she pulled the brownies from the oven, Cade bounced down the stairs right on cue.

"Do I smell my favorite brownies?" he asked with excitement.

"You bet!" his mom said, smiling. After letting them cool for a few moments, Cade's mom cut into the warm brownies and plopped a large one on his plate. Just as his fork hit the plate, she stopped him, and mentioned casually, "Just so you know, I added a special ingredient this time." She paused without cracking a smile. "I put a teaspoon of Ginger's poop in your brownies."

"What?!" Cade shouted, immediately disgusted. "Mom, are you crazy? Why'd you do that?" he choked while pushing his plate away.

Cade's mom went to the fridge and poured her son his usual glass of milk. "Don't worry, buddy. I didn't put a lot of poop in the brownies. There's just a little bit of bad stuff."

He rolled his eyes, but she'd made her point and served it up home-style. Cade realized he wouldn't be seeing the movie.

The moral of this story? A little bit of poop goes a long way. Ask yourself, is there a little poop in the media you normally enjoy? ...

Facts from Wikipedia:

- Craig Groeschel is the founder and senior pastor of Life Covenant Church and LifeChurch.tv, a church with fourteen locations in five states. Along with Joel Osteen’s Lakewood, Ed Young’s Second Baptist, Andy Stanley’s North Point Community, and Bill Bybels’ Willow Creek Community, it is one of the top 5 largest megachurches in the United States.

- Groeschel received a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Oklahoma City University. He received a Master of Divinity from Philips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I'm only reading and reviewing the book itself, which means that I'm missing out on the Soul Detox Curriculum Kit, the Soul Detox Participant’s Guide, the Soul Detox DVD Study and the Soul Detox Participant’s Guide with DVD.

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You know what really bugs me about the "only a little bit of bad stuff makes the whole thing bad"? I mean, besides the ambiguity of labeling "bad stuff"? It's the fact that we know it's not true. Like, there's trace amounts of various poisons almost everywhere around us and we seem to do fine with it (actually, according to Dick Taverne--who's a politician, not a scientist, so grain of salt and all that, but still--we're better off if we have trace amounts of poison in our diet. Even if Taverne is wrong, ideologically skewed, etc, I think the general principle seems sound. Real scientists/science-literate persons are welcome to correct me). So they're trying to extrapolate from nature to morality a law that isn't true even in nature.

I couldn't handle a whole book like that. You are a better man than I. Enjoy yourself.

EDIT: One more thought: it seems to me that there's something very disturbing about the tendency to see morality in terms of purity/impurity. I mean, sure, the OT does exactly that--but I think too often it descends into in-group/out-group distinctions which are not only problematic, but which can be positively harmful.

Edited by NBooth

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So they're trying to extrapolate from nature to morality a law that isn't true even in nature.

it seems to me that there's something very disturbing about the tendency to see morality in terms of purity/impurity.

To me too, if impurity is reduced to a film rating.

I couldn't handle this book either.

It wants me to feel mistrust and repulsion and I confess I do. Only not towards secular culture. The visual metaphor of hands clasped in prayer but clad in rubber gloves - the extended metaphor of the mother's home-made brownies being laced with Ginger's 'secret ingredient' - they're self-parodic but they also strike a chord in me; they strike me as perverse.

I imagine kids being subjected to a steady diet of stories about the spiritual toxicity of crude, everyday speech vs. the sptiritual wholesomeness of crude, euphemistic ideology. Even though, writing this, I wonder if I'm being insensitive and unfair to a culture I simply don't understand.

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I actually see this kind of thinking and teaching as dangerous in that it leaves a person with little ability to have any cultural discernment, and thereby, at the end of the day, little ability to have any real cultural impact, or even for that matter much of an ability to find connecting points with others outside of their system. I know people who have been influenced by this type of thinking and some of their understanding of culture is kind of nutty.

It seems to me that this book might be a poo in the brownie. ;)

Edited by Attica

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Honestly, I don't think this book was published because the author really thinks people needs 'soul detox', this is all about affirmation of identity and denial (which the same thing).

You run a subtext based on if/then.: if we are contaminated by culture, then we are naturally clean, we are good people that just consumed the wrong stuff. Or : if it is the culture that its ruining me, then I just need to get away from that and will everything be okay. But this culture only exists because you will connect with it, because you are who you are. Those guys who make movies don't have to lie to you, you are being lied to, by yourself. If you want to change it, now you know where to start.

Edited by Pierrot

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Pierrot said:

: But this culture only exists because you will connect with it, because you are who you are. Those guys who make movies don't have to lie to you, you are being lied to, by yourself. If you want to change it, now you know where to start.

I'm not quite tracking with what you mean here Pierrot.

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I was not all clear, sorry. I was referring to the mother on the quote. Instead of just trying to make her son or herself to stay away from the 'bad movies' she should ask herself: what kind of person I am (or my son is) that he/me like the 'bad stuff'?

Edit: they are projecting the problem outside them, the bad culture will ruin my son, well not if he doesn't want to be ruined. (i.e. the problem is always us, and we have to change that first.)

Edited by Pierrot

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Edit: they are projecting the problem outside them, the bad culture will ruin my son, well not if he doesn't want to be ruined. (i.e. the problem is always us, and we have to change that first.)

Precisely so. This is what bugs me about a purity-based approach to morality; it always winds up (or seems to always wind up) pitting the "pure and undefiled" us against the wicked them. As I see it, the call to "keep oneself unspotted from the world" is a call to self-interrogation; when it's changed into a command to keep our spiritual/moral foods separate, it becomes a real problem and can lead to real issues down the road when, for instance, the child starts to question the absolute judgments of the parents on matters moral--viz. if it's "all or nothing," then, if you can't take the "all," you're left with the "nothing." Similar stuff goes on, I think, w/r/t issues of science etc. What gets missed or passed over here is an essential element of critical/rational thought, and the results [can be] very disheartening, both for the parent and for the child.

...and on a totally different note, I can't be the only one thinking of The Help when I read this story, right?

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth said:

:Precisely so. This is what bugs me about a purity-based approach to morality; it always winds up (or seems to always wind up) pitting the "pure and undefiled" us against the wicked them. As I see it, the call to "keep oneself unspotted from the world" is a call to self-interrogation; when it's changed into a command to keep our spiritual/moral foods separate, it becomes a real problem

I've got more thoughts coming tomorrow, but for now I'd say that I whole heartedly agree with this. I just finished reading the book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality which in part touches on this very thing. That kind of attitude can also hamper one from showing hospitality towards their "defiled" neighbor (so to speak), amongst other dangers.

Edited by Attica

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That kind of attitude can also hamper one from showing hospitality towards their "defiled" neighbor (so to speak), amongst other dangers.

And ... uh, Groeschel writes on page 203:

If you’re becoming aware of a toxic relationship with potential to poison your life, don’t panic ... Just like a rancher surrounds his property and livestock with a fence, we too should put protective measures in place to protect from bad influences. What does a properly placed fence do? It keeps the bad out and the good in. Our boundaries will help us to enjoy the good people without inhaling the bad ... Although [Jesus] loved the whole world with the same godlike unconditional love, he didn't select everyone in the whole world to be in his inner circle.

And on pages 204-205:

Here are two things you can learn to say to help establish healthy boundaries. First, you can tell people, "I won’t let you talk to me or treat me that way" ... Second, you can explain to people, "I’m not going there with you." If others decide to live toxically, you don’t have to join them.

I'm almost finished with this. Recently reading authors like T.S. Eliot, Russell Kirk, Marilynne Robinson, David F. Wells, Mark Helprin and Wendell Berry, I didn't realize how spoiled I'd become until I determined to read a modern day Christian bestseller again.

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: Although [Jesus] loved the whole world with the same godlike unconditional love, he didn't select everyone in the whole world to be in his inner circle.

No. Not everyone. Just a prostitute, a tax collector, a traitor, brothers with anger management problems, someone who would eventually deny him three times out of fear, and other general riffraff. :)/>

I do believe in proper boundaries though. But that's a life skill with everyone we meet, whereby our boundaries are always in flux, depending.

Edited by Attica

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Precisely so. This is what bugs me about a purity-based approach to morality; it always winds up (or seems to always wind up) pitting the "pure and undefiled" us against the wicked them.
Correct. This is also one more way that religion inevitably tries to exert control in the culture. The problem isn't "us", it's always some meddling, external threat of "them"-- an evil threat that of course needs to be aggressively protested, quarantined or eradicated.

The degree of self-interrogation and the paranoid fixation on cleanliness always sounds like a germaphobe with OCD to me. The solution, according to the book's cover, is obvious: bleach everything.

Edited by Greg P

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Interestingly, at least for me, I'm slogging through Volf's "Exclusion and Embrace", in which he argues that the practice of exclusion--of buidling fences to keep the "other" out--has a good claim on being the fundamental sin. But inclusion is not the Christian alternative because is does not address real sin; embrace is--because it takes the outcast and the sinner and wraps them up in a transformative self-giving love. I think that is Volf's point--as I said, its a bit of a slog, a fascinating and resonating one, but a slog none the less.

So to read the pull quotes from this book, and the desire for purity by keeping out the impure other, is ironic to say the least.

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Not super relevant, as I haven't read "Unclean," but love Richard Beck's blog Experimental Theology. His other book, The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience, looks really interesting too.

Sorry for the interruption. As you were.

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I've glanced through some of Beck's blog. He's surely someone worth hearing out. The book Unclean is a fantastic read and it also touches on the arts a little.

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You know what really bugs me about the "only a little bit of bad stuff makes the whole thing bad"? I mean, besides the ambiguity of labeling "bad stuff"? It's the fact that we know it's not true. Like, there's trace amounts of various poisons almost everywhere around us and we seem to do fine with it (actually, according to Dick Taverne--who's a politician, not a scientist, so grain of salt and all that, but still--we're better off if we have trace amounts of poison in our diet. Even if Taverne is wrong, ideologically skewed, etc, I think the general principle seems sound. Real scientists/science-literate persons are welcome to correct me). So they're trying to extrapolate from nature to morality a law that isn't true even in nature.

I couldn't handle a whole book like that. You are a better man than I. Enjoy yourself.

EDIT: One more thought: it seems to me that there's something very disturbing about the tendency to see morality in terms of purity/impurity. I mean, sure, the OT does exactly that--but I think too often it descends into in-group/out-group distinctions which are not only problematic, but which can be positively harmful.

This discussion is reminding me of Ellison's Invisible Man, where at the paint factory you can't get pure, brilliant white without adding a dollop of black to the base paint. Obviously Ellison was making race connotations in particular, which don't apply here, but how that image challenges the idea of "purity" is in itself interesting. Something that is technically "pure," i.e. no blackness, ends up looking dull and grey, whereas the paint that gets black toner becomes brilliant and brightly white. I suppose it's questionable to try to remove race from the metaphor, but I just started thinking of whiteness, in this case, being a measure of reflectivity and not compositional purity. Reflectivity of light being a desired trait, for those who don't shy away from the dark--a trait that their compositionally "purer" counterparts cannot display as fully.

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I like that. Anna.

I think this quest for absolute "purity" in thought, word and deed naturally lends itself to unrealistic notions of happiness, obsessive introspection and ultimately, disappointment and frustration with religion. I think it also transitions very easily into skewed theology of the Creator as the "God of 100%" (to quote J.B. Phillips)

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I like it too.

I identify very much with wha;ts been said in this thread about abjection, complacency, separatism and Christianity.

And because historically, notions of purity and impurity have been associated with some of the worst crimes against humanity, Ellison's original context is probably very relevant too.

I'm also confounded by these arguments on a more prosaic level. They're so poorly reasoned.

In the first example, it's not that ratings are worthless. But I've seen G rated films whose subtexts or messages disturbed me and seemed unsuitable for children and R rated films whose language &c., especially for adults, is not the cinematic equivalent of gorging on refuse and whose harm for kids lies at most in their not being mature enough to handle it. Had the writer replaced the innate 'badness' of other people and influences with a focus on our own weakness and susceptibility (like Pierrot says) and not told a story that reminded me of Joan Crawford being served a rat (because I didn't see The Help) I'd be less alienated.

And in the second example, fences are so patently not to separate the 'good' from the 'bad' but, among other things, to preserve the difference between mine and yours, the domesticated and the wild, the private and the public &c. (And because where I live horse pastures abound, my personal counter-analogy would be that when startled deer encounter grid-like fencing it's the fawns that are left behind. And I actually find that sight intensely distressing.)

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Josie said:

: But I've seen G rated films whose subtexts or messages disturbed me and seemed unsuitable for children and R rated films whose language &c., especially for adults, is not the cinematic equivalent of gorging on refuse and whose harm for kids lies at most in their not being mature enough to handle it.

And I've seen G rated films with lessons that are entirely New Agey (something they would object to) and R rated films with disturbing content where the lessons (at the end of the day) are completely compatible with Christianity.

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Something that is technically "pure," i.e. no blackness, ends up looking dull and grey, whereas the paint that gets black toner becomes brilliant and brightly white. I suppose it's questionable to try to remove race from the metaphor, but I just started thinking of whiteness, in this case, being a measure of reflectivity and not compositional purity. Reflectivity of light being a desired trait, for those who don't shy away from the dark--a trait that their compositionally "purer" counterparts cannot display as fully.

As far as analogies go, it is a very good one. But, it would not satisfy the purposes of Craig Groeschel. It has far too much nuance. Groeschel prefers even his analogies to be detoxed of all nuance and subtlety. For example:

“Like a firewall protecting your computer, you need to remain vigilant against Satan’s lies that threaten to corrupt the hard drive of your mind.” (pg. 41.) “We hold the key in our minds but lose sight of it in the junk drawer of our negative thoughts.” (pg. 41.) “If you let weeds grow in your garden too long, they will choke out the truth and smother your joy. You’ll be forced to eat weed salad ...” (pg. 43.) “Amid the bounty of blessings we experience daily, thoughts of dissatisfaction pop up like pimples on a teenager.” (pg. 45.) “Think about the difference between two birds: a vulture and a hummingbird ... The ugly oversized bird doesn’t stop until he finds lifeless, rotting road kill. Contrast the vulture to the tiny hummingbird ... what does this small bird find? Not dead things and disgusting rancid meat, but instead, sweet, life-giving nectar.” (pg. 50.) “I envision an old, termite-infested house being transformed by a good exterminator and a construction crew from HGTV. Think of it as ‘Mind Makeover: God Edition’!” (pg. 52.) “Delete toxic words and insert the truth.” (pg. 62.) “If you show me any marriage that is limping along, I’ll show you a marriage filled with word darts flying recklessly through the air.” (pg. 64.) “But the desires of his body shut down his brain and stamped DENIED across the application of his willpower.” (pg. 78.)

The book is crammed and stuffed to the seams with this sort of thing.

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The vulture/hummingbird comparison is truly terrible, considering the great service vultures provide to, oh, everyone in the food chain, by digesting the rotten, diseased, and contaminated, and making good soil out of it.

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Sweet, life-giving nectar represents the books & movies at the Christian bookstore. See? Disgusting rancid roadkill represents books & movies outside the Christian bookstore. Besides, vultures are ugly and hummingbirds are pretty.

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The vulture/hummingbird comparison is truly terrible, considering the great service vultures provide to, oh, everyone in the food chain, by digesting the rotten, diseased, and contaminated, and making good soil out of it.

I really question how much this author (and similar writers) know/care about actual nature when they go about writing these things. As with the feces-in-the-brownie thing, they seem to be aiming more toward the gag reflex than any meaning-grounded sort of metaphor. Which, again, is connected to the whole purity thing; they don't want people to think critically, because they might decide that a little of the "bad stuff" isn't so bad (or--horrors!--that the bad stuff isn't bad at all), so they put it in terms of disgust/aversion in an attempt to short-circuit actual thought.

The rest of those quoted metaphors? Shudder-inducing, not only because of their wrongness, but because of their downright literal-mindedness (Your mind is like a hard drive, see? And you have to keep a fire wall up to keep the viruses out. No word on how often the antiviral software of the soul needs to be updated, though. And then, apparently, "you" are not "your mind"--"you" are the "firewall" somehow protecting the hard drive of your mind, presumably in a not-mindful way--though I assume that how one draws that distinction goes unnoticed by the author).

Also--weed salad? What's wrong with that, exactly? Clearly he's never heard of poke salad.

Edited by NBooth

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I really question how much this author (and similar writers) know/care about actual nature when they go about writing these things. .

Heh. Nothing? Sadly, none of this is at all a surprise to me, as I grew up in a home where only books from the Christian bookstore and music from the Christian radio were allowed, and no movies were permitted except ones with practically zero swear words or sexually suggestive content, and I learned things like "the most important thing is to just tell people what you believe all the time and God will bless you for it."

Oh man, I could go forever on these Groeschel analogies. How about how many of the families who received shiny new homes from HGTV are now defaulting on their mortgages and being evicted because their houses are now valued much too high for them to sustain payments. Maintaining that impressive appearance can result in a bit of spiritual bankruptcy, eh? You don't say.

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