Monday, June 12, 2006
How Christianity Has Changed the Way You Go to the Bathroom
Well, I found this very unique and interesting piece in the Detroit Free Press over the weekend. It's written by David Crumm and I, for some obscure reason, found it interesting...
In his new book, "Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization" (Atria Books; $24), W. Hodding Carter praises modern plumbing for its obvious benefits. But his research also shows a strong link between these bodily functions and our spiritual insights.
This is not modern psychobabble. Even Romans understood this truth, Carter said. In 500 BC, when they built a major sewer system, the Romans installed a statue of a goddess of water purification, Cloacina, near the facility.
"A lot of the history of our bathroom customs involves Christianity rising in Europe and replacing Roman culture," Carter said. "Romans liked to bathe together, but that became bad in Christianity."
There were even Christian saints who preached against any bathing, "and that was a huge setback for Western culture," Carter said.
"It contributed to a culture of privacy. In Rome, the latrines had been lively community centers," Carter said. "You'd have 40 on the men's side or 40 on the women's side, sitting on long rows, taking care of their bodily needs, but also talking with friends and sharing the latest news.
"When Christians privatized all of that and made it seem shameful, that left a lot of people really hung up about their bodily functions."
How hung up? In talking with Carter, I shared with him a piece of Free Press polling data from the mid-1990s that I think ranks among the most striking cultural findings this newspaper has ever published.
A 1997 Free Press investigation of Dr. Jack Kevorkian included a poll of 600 Michigan residents about physician-assisted suicide. When asked what conditions would prompt them to commit suicide, 27% of men and women said incontinence.
That's more than one in four people who are so embarrassed about an inability to control their human waste that they'd rather kill themselves than deal with that change in life.
Carter said, "I wish I'd known about that piece of data before I finished the book, because that's exactly the problem. Along with privatizing the bathroom came this sense of shame and fear of our bodies and their sounds and odors.
"When you look at this whole history," he said, "it's so sad to think about how people took these advancements in plumbing and in health and turned them into a psychological setback for so many people."
This could sound like a joke, but I agree with Carter that "maybe if people stop and think about this, it might relieve some of their fears. Who knows?" he said. "A talk about this stuff could wind up serving a higher purpose."
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Aaah the power of culture. This is just a reminder that just like of all the many things we take for granted, our societal and cultural standards of propriety need not be thought of as absolute...
Although I have to say, there's a hottub with lots of naked men in it in my health club's locker room... perhaps we're rediscovering roman civilization?
Posted by: Daniel | Jun 12, 2006 6:10:12 PM
I must say that the length and breadth of diversity you bring to us in matters of the faith is truly amazing. I stand in ... well awe.
Posted by: Kent | Jun 12, 2006 7:22:20 PM
It's only a matter of time before someone blames the rows of open urinals on the liberal megachurch! I'm sure Joel Osteen's church just has long troughs in the mens' rooms!
Posted by: Randy Ehle | Jun 13, 2006 12:14:23 PM
As I read that article a few random thoughts flashed through my brain:
- I think that the article is crappy and really stinks. But then, things that are considered offensive are very often necessary.
- It's funny. As a body, I find that we are also often embarrassed by our reproductive members. Those strange types who aren't as presentable as the more acceptable parts but who actually do the work of reproducing.
- Let's see ... we are the body of Christ ... I know there are some great analogies hidden deep in there somewhere ...
I wanted to just drop in and post something pithy – but that piece actually got me thinking deep (for me) thoughts.
Posted by: Todd - Not That Todd | Jun 14, 2006 12:46:55 AM
After reading about that Roman communal experience as other scatological historical tidbits it just confirms some thing that i have come to believe; that music is not the universal language but talking about your BM is!
Posted by: Adam | Sep 21, 2006 12:29:42 AM
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