Cleanliness is next to an evolutionary strategy

Windex_OriginalSo Time magazine has an interesting story about social scientists looking at a connection between clean livin' and Windex. Apparently studies suggest that people behave better when they're surrounded by the Refreshingly Clean Scent of Streak-free Windex. I don't doubt this as my own behavior ranges from disorderly mayhem to prim and proper based on the state of my house. (Things aren't so great right now, thanks for asking.) Here's an early paragraph:

It's the Macbeth principle of morality, says Katie Liljenquist, professor of organizational leadership at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management and lead author of the new study, to be published in Psychological Science. "There is a strong link between moral and physical purity that people associate at a core level. People feel contaminated by immoral choices and try to wash away their sins," says Liljenquist. "To some degree, washing actually is effective in alleviating guilt. What we wondered was whether you could regulate ethical behavior through cleanliness. We found that we could."

The story goes into the study -- 28 participants in one and 99 in another -- where Windex was spritzed into one room and the other left neutral. The folks in the citrus fresh room behaved more morally than the others.

All fine and good. But check out this paragraph:

Nevertheless, both morality researchers and olfactory scientists agree that people do strongly associate physical cleanliness with purity of conscience. It is the notion at the heart of adages like "cleanliness is next to godliness" and evidenced by the widespread use of cleansing ceremonies to wash away sins in various religions around the world. (Truth be told, that practice is merely an extrapolation of an evolutionary strategy to avoid disease.)

Truth be told? Truth be told? On what basis, exactly, is this "truth" told? You've got the words of Jesus (here and here, for instance) versus the truth claim of Catherine Elton, Time reporter.

Or as blogger Get Anchored notes:

What authority does our writer quote to back up her contention that cleansing ceremonies--like, oh, let's say, baptism--"is merely an extrapolation of an evolutionary strategy to avoid disease"? For that matter, what authority could she quote for a view that is easy to suppose and impossible to prove?


That little flash of pop-anthropology aside, the article is worth a read. I'm always fascinated with stories of links between soul and body. And, of course, Scripture has so much to say about the purity/aroma link, including this: "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him" (2 Cor. 2:14).

For my part, I just wish stories of links between soul and body didn't presuppose an evolutionary basis. It gets tiring. I mean sure, maybe Lady Macbeth's character is extrapolating a dramatic arc from an evolutionary strategy. But maybe she was more motivated by the baptismal rite itself. Or maybe it was something else entirely.

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