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Pollution – Not always what you think

Girls Fashion Scooter Mask Helmet Pollution

From the 1960s and 70s onward, awareness of environmental pollution has increased steadily. In 2017 the Green movement is almost like a religion for many.

Personalities like Al Gore present themselves as objective reporters of scientific fact while promoting particular agendas on climate change. Meanwhile, the scientific and greater debate on global warming rages on.

The media tends to emphasize industrial pollution generated by so-called developed countries. But organic pollution from human and animal waste is a huge contributor to early death and preventable disease—especially in densely populated, economically underdeveloped countries.

We are all aware of pollution. People wear masks in public. Not just in China but where I live in Toronto.

Falun Gong in Toronto – Wikipedia

However, there are at least three additional types of pollution that many overlook.

Social Pollution

Social pollution is about social activities that an opposing group, usually a ruling power, says pollute the social body, as we find in China.

“The same people that are cracking down on issues like democracy and Falun Gong are concerned about things like ‘spiritual pollution,'” Economy said. “And every several years — maybe five to seven years — China is likely to have a ‘spiritual pollution’ campaign and ‘anti-spiritual pollution’ campaign which means that they don’t like what they perceive to be coming from the West: sex, the freedoms, drug use; all of these very sensationalistic television programs.”¹

Jagannath Ghat – Kolkata_2012 – Wikipedia

Ritual Pollution

In religious scripture and practice we find the idea of ritual pollution, as in the Bible‘s Old Testament.

According to Leviticus 15: 19-23, women are impure and can spread this impurity for a certain period during and after menstruation:

When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.

More dramatically, Eric Lafforgue says the idea of ritual pollution has deadly consequences among the Hamar in southern Ethiopia.

Twins, a child born outside of formal marriages are considered to possess mingi (abnormality, pollution, unclean) and, for this reason, they are abandoned into the bush to die.²

Title page of a Eighteenth century popular Pamphlet on the effects of masturbation on the health of the individual. This pamphlet was one of the first to warn against the dangers of onanism – Wikipedia

Spiritual Pollution

Beliefs about spiritual purity and impurity can be found that are not necessarily linked to a particular social or physiological taboo.

As evident from the works of the Indian holy men Sri Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo, the distinction between pure and impure is also made on the basis of an individual’s perceived spiritual development.

The Hindu guru (Skt = spiritual teacher) often keeps a safe distance from disciples to avoid being overwhelmed by their spiritual impurities. The guru allegedly intercedes for disciples to help purify them—that is, to cleanse their souls from the subtle crud accumulated from their ungodly attitudes and behavior.

From the guru’s perspective, the disciples’ spiritual discomfort is alleviated through intercessory meditation, ritual and prayer.

The poet Kálidása (c. 5th century CE) mentions a similar dynamic involving spiritual pollution and purity in his Shakuntala.

It is natural that the first sight of the King’s capital
should affect you in this manner;
my own sensations are very similar.
As one just bathed beholds the man polluted;
As one late purified, the yet impure:-
As one awake looks on the yet unawakened;
Or as the freeman gazes on the thrall,
So I regard this crowd of pleasure-seekers.³

Likewise, Jainism makes use of the symbolism of iron filings (the impurities of non-liberated souls) automatically flying to a magnet (the pure and liberated soul).

Similar ideas about subtle yet tangible pollution are found in the Christian mysticism of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Faustina Kowalska.

Image via The Chrysalis

Most spiritual perspectives differ on some of the finer points but all agree that subtle impurities may transfer from one person to another.

Buddhism speaks of karmic weights and skandhas that transfer and cluster over space and time, contributing to the apparent illusion of individuality.

In Jungian depth psychology, the notion of a subtle transfer of light and dark qualities is found in the discussion of alchemy, where Jung and his followers liken human relationships to complex chemical interactions.

Ethics and Pollution

Implicit to any discussion of spiritual pollution is the realm of ethics. The classic religion scholar Rudolf Otto says a morally evil action is “self-depreciating” and “pollutes,” leading toward imagery suggesting the need for “washing and cleansing.”4

So the next time someone tells you we have a polluted environment, you might ask what they are saying.

When we say someone is “toxic” do we simply mean they are a drag to be with or is there more to the picture? And how about “bad vibes?”

Metaphor or reality?

¹ Nikola Krastev, “China: Report Says Media Control Is Tightening,”Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Thursday, February 23, 2006.

² See commentary at

³ From the Shakuntala by Kálidása, circa 5th century CE, in A Treasury of Asian Literature, ed. John D. Yohannan. New York: Meridian, 1984.

4 The Idea of the Holy, second edition, trans. John W. Harvey, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973 [1923], p. 55. For more on religious and spiritual pollution see

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 The Daily Fix: Polluting coal power plants undermine India’s climate change mitigation commitments (


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Fire in the fire temple, burning allegedly for...

Fire in the fire temple, burning allegedly for 1000 years (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zoroastrianism is an Ancient Persian religion founded around 1200 BCE by Zarathustra.

Its sacred scripture is the Avesta, which has some affinities with the older Hindu Rig Veda. The Avesta portrays an eternal struggle between pure goodness and evil, personified by Ahura Mazda (Good) and Angra Mainyu (Evil).

Fire is taken to be holy and a perpetual flame is maintained by temple priests who wear masks to prevent polluting the fire with their breath. This notion of spiritual pollution is especially important to Zoroastrianism.

Jamsheed K. Choksy suggests a complex interplay among biological, psychosocial and spiritual factors when outlining the Zoroastrian belief that ritual space is pure, as opposed to impure or “polluted” normal space.

Access to ritual spaces had never been equally available to all the faithful, irrespective of gender and class, especially because of considerations relating to purity and pollution. In Zoroastrian society, a wide range of items categorized as pollutants–from bad thoughts, false words, and harmful deeds to bodily fluids when released–are ascribed power to vitiate the efficacy of rituals paces, rites performed herein, and participants. So direct access to performances within pure space was and is generally restricted to duly initiated, purified members of the hereditary male clergy during propitiatory rituals, and to purifiers and candidates for cleansing during purificatory rituals. In the absence of priests, male and female members of the laity–especially religiously learned individuals–may perform basic rites.¹

The Muslim conquest of Iran in the 7th century threatened the extinction of Zoroastrianism but the religion has survived in limited numbers with the Gabars of Iran and Parsees of India.

¹ Jamsheed K. Choksy, “To Cut off, Purify, and Make Whole: Historiographical and Ecclesiastical Conceptions of Ritual Space” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 123, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 2003: 21-41), p. 30.

Related Posts » Ahriman

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Rally against Political Corruption In Slovakia: People At Home Have No More Bananas (money) For Gorillas (corrupted politicians)

Rally against Political Corruption In Slovakia by infomatique via Flickr

Not until fairly recently has corruption been recognized as a valid topic within the social sciences, perhaps partly because it’s not easily verified. Also, shrewd researchers wishing to avoid repercussions in an imperfect world may know when it’s best to keep quiet.

Corruption most often involves bribery and abuses of legitimate authority.¹ In business and government corruption may take place between as few as two people or among a relatively small number or insiders. Some examples in government would be employing a less qualified person than others or closing a business deal as a result of clandestine social and/or economic connections. In business, examples would be market collusion and all types of fraud involving more than one person.

Extreme conspiracy theorists contend that a so-called ‘culture of fear’ is purposefully orchestrated by inherently deceptive governments in order to legitimize wars and bolster certain markets. Along these lines, some believe that corruption has permeated Western culture to a degree formerly associated with so-called third and second world countries. But again, proof is usually hard to find and, most likely, always will be.

Within psychology and especially theology, the term corruption refers to specific individuals or groups whenever an action is deemed morally degrading by another group claiming moral authority. In some circles of Eastern and Western mystical theology corrupt acts are said to “pollute” the individual soul (or in Buddhism, to attract negative skandhas).

These two ideas of corruption – the social vs. the psychological and theological – may at first seem separate. But on closer inspection, they’re arguably connected. As Jesus puts it in Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit.” True, Christ is talking about true and false religious prophets in this passage, but it seems fair to generalize this idea to all aspects of life.

So what does this mean for the average person in our imperfect world? Even the upright schoolteacher or respected academic has probably photocopied material that is under copyright. And many decent folks made cassette tapes of their favorite albums back in the day.

Ugandan anti-corruption sign

Ugandan anti-corruption sign by via Flickr

The answer to this question has spawned a lot of debate in philosophy and theology about ethics, and clever thinkers have come up with a range of ideas from “situational ethics” to “necessary evil” to try to grapple with the realities of imperfect beings living in an imperfect world.

Moreover, in sociology and economics were hear arguments about the alleged positive aspects of crime–for instance, crime is said to be good for anti-crime businesses and services (e.g. anti-virus software), as well as for neutral market areas (e.g. the old cassette tape). And even the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that a limited amount of crime was good for society because it helped to define boundaries for acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior, this awareness strengthening society as a whole.² But ultimately, it seems only God can know what’s right and wrong, this also being one of Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 7:1).

Related Posts » Nineteen Eighty-Four, Pollution

¹ For a good list of these potential abuses, see

² For a good discussion on Durkheim’s view, see