It would be great if we could pluck the diamond of truth about purity right out of the ground perfectly cut and polished, but this gem is buried deep in semantic rubble and is going to require a bit of excavating and refining before its true meaning can be revealed.
The hard fact is that the word purity, in its spiritual connotation, has been sexualized. In its narrowest interpretation, it means NO SEX! But this is only because sex can make people irrational, and the authors of the NO SEX! rule didn’t like that. Sex is disorderly and unpredictable, which makes it hard for the thinking mind to control. And the rational mind, and those who swear by it, are all about control.
Those who deny sex and who claim to have risen above it have most assuredly found other ways to screw you. Count on it. Those who haven’t risen above it but try to suppress it are capable of being unbelievably squirrelly, always chasing their tail. Seldom do you find sexually heathy people who know when and how to express themselves. This society can scarcely tolerate such people who are usually considered too candid for polite company.
The vow of purity was instituted to raise the heart aspect above its primitive function, the Will to Survive. It is that force within us that says, “I WILL LIVE!” Therefore, this aspect is fiercely regulated in all human societies. There are strict rules about how individuals are to conduct themselves in matters of the heart – the survival of the tribe demands purity of heart, and it has prescribed different heart aspects to men and women. And because the tribe sees physical life as its primary concern, the rules have been made highly gender-specific. They not only define appropriate sexual behavior, they define appropriate moral character, specifying different aspects for men and women.
Besides being sexualized, the principle of purity has been strangely feminized, as though sex were the exclusive province, morally speaking, of women. Rarely are men praised for their purity, but a woman can be killed if she is deemed impure. Perhaps this is because the heart in its feeling aspect is considered an exclusively feminine virtue. A warm heart is a nurturing heart, essential to the survival of a people. Therefore, feminine purity is seen as the capacity to hold a space for others wherein they can grow and develop. A woman with a cold heart, however—one who has lost her capacity to empathize due to bitterness, stunted emotional development, or simply corrupted by power—is denounced as a bitch, a serious epithet in our society, and loses her moral legitimacy.
On the other hand, the heart aspect of courage is considered almost exclusively a male virtue. Men are also counted on to sacrifice themselves for the good of the tribe but in outwardly directed ways. Courageous men are decorated as heroes. They can kill other men without letting their feelings get in the way, as long as they commit their crimes in socially sanctioned venues, such as war and criminal justice. Their ability to compartmentalize their feelings is lauded as manly behavior, sexualized again in the vernacular by a reference to the male genitalia. But, the inability to suppress his feelings means that a man is weak, or worse yet, womanly. The usual descriptor is wussy, or another word that rhymes with that, which further reinforces the way society genderizes moral principles. And like impurity in a woman, which is the corruption of the feminine heart aspect as it is socially understood, can get her killed, so can cowardice be grounds to execute a man, especially in war.
Courageous women are okay, but only if they retain their feminine demure. If not, they are de-sexualized, perhaps becoming role models, but at the price of their desirability. Courageous men, however, become more desirable. Their prowess in war is linked to their sexual prowess, thus strengthening their position as “pillars” of society. Women are automatically objectified by this point of view, seen as just another thing to be conquered.
All of these conditioned ideas about purity only get in the way. They tell us little about purity as a spiritual principle. But this is nothing new. Powerful emotions have always been stigmatized in our society. And when purity is semantically linked to sex to the point where that is all that it means, people will go out of their way to get dirty.