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Contagious Evil

October 7, 2009

flu-virusSome of the nonsense conservatives say makes sense if you subscribe to their magical beliefs about evil, according to which evil seems to spread like a contagion. On this view, you can be infected with evil just by being near evil things or evil people. On this view, evil spreads like the flu—the equivalent of anti-bacterial hand gel is the armor of prayer.

Merely having a Buddhist temple next door could ruin your faith in Jesus. Having an establishment in your neighborhood that serves alcohol could destroy the neighborhood. On this view, mere exposure to evil (or sin or sinful behavior) can “rub off” on others and make them sick as well.

If you don’t believe in the evil-is-contagious theory, you’ll be flabbergasted when conservatives insist that gay marriage can destroy society. But if you hold this view, it makes absolutely perfect sense.

The problem is that these magical beliefs about evil contagion are flat-out wrong.

We should not be tolerant of this view; we should debunk it every time we get the chance.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2009 5:56 pm

    Their god and faith are obviously quite ineffectual if the can’t withstand even being in the presence of other things/people.

  2. Alderson Warm-Fork permalink
    October 7, 2009 11:03 pm

    The way I’d put this point is: for a certain mentality, moral responses and disgust/cleanliness responses are closely linked – and in consequence, the idea of disease and the idea of moral evil are closely linked.

    You get the same conceptual linkage when evangelicals tell you that Jesus’ blood will wash away your sin, and upon probing you find that this metaphor, which is deeply compelling and feels really right for them, can’t be easily translated into language that doesn’t draw on themes of purity and cleanliness.

    This is, by the way, an empirically supported idea (http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php) disgust and related concepts are powerful in the moral thought of certain cultures and subcultures, and weak in others.

  3. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    October 8, 2009 8:52 am

    Excellent point!

  4. Dr. Jim permalink
    October 9, 2009 11:26 am

    Does this relate to notions of ritual purity or impurity that are so central is some religious systems?

  5. October 21, 2009 2:56 pm

    I dunno… I have some gay friends, and after a while of spending time with them, I started feeling more comfortable with having a crush on Sean Connery.

    And Harrison Ford. And Brad Pitt.

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