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Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  400 ratings  ·  67 reviews
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Echoing Hosea, Jesus defends his embrace of the "unclean" in the Gospel of Matthew, seeming to privilege the prophetic call to justice over the Levitical pursuit of purity. And yet, as missional faith communities are well aware, the tensions and conflicts between holiness and mercy are not so easily resolved. At every turn, it seems that th ...more
Paperback, 201 pages
Published March 4th 2011 by Cascade (first published March 2011)
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4.39  · 
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 ·  400 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an extremely helpful book for understanding discussions of morality, both in politics, but more specifically in Christian religious communities.
Beck's framework is Matthew 9, where Jesus asks the Pharisees, 'Go learn what this means: 'I desire mercy not sacrifice.'" Sacrifice and mercy become the two terms that Beck uses to discuss the disgust reactions and the overcoming of disgust reactions, respectively. He says, "Sacrifice—the purity impulse—marks off a zone of holiness, admitting t
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
I finished a book! Yay! First one since the twins were born.

Unclean by Richard Beck, to me, was a psychological analysis of why we are so prone to being elite, exclusive, and inhospitable to “others.” Beck gives an academic analysis of “disgust,” a human emotion that at its heart, is meant to protect us from ingesting substances that could be physically harmful. Society conditions us, however, to feel disgust and a variety of things and people that are actually not disgusting (in the sense of ha
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
This book is subtitled "Reflections on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality", and it is a blend of psychological and theological analysis. Starting from a similar grounding in psychological research to Jonathan Haidt ("The Righteous Mind"), Beck probes deeper with a profound meditation on the significance of the text "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" for Jesus' ministry and for the Christian church.

In brief, Beck's contention is that the psychology of disgust is active in many conscious and uncons
James Hilliard
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing book, full of fresh insights. It put into words many thoughts that I had been cultivating about hospitality and its relationship to the Eucharist, and then it amplified and clarified them 1,000 times. I will never approach the altar in the same way again. Every Christian who believes they possess a mature faith needs to read and be challenged by this book.
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology, psychology
Would you drink a bottle of wine if there was a drop of urine in it? Why do we tend to assume that a tiny amount of impurity taints a huge amount of purity? Is there a deeper meaning to this "disgust" that we experience? Where does it come from?

These are some of the interesting questions Richard Beck's book touches on. Such questions would be interesting in a book that popularizes psychological research on disgust. Perhaps that could be the idea for Malcolm Gladwell's next book! But it is not Be
Ali M.
Jan 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: soul-food
Excellent. Why isn't psychology integrated with theology more often? It's so illuminating. Unclean is one of the best breakdowns of the subconscious Christian life I've read since Insurrection: To Believe Is Human; To Doubt, Divine. It's essentially a discussion of disgust psychology, and how this universal human impulse regulates nearly every aspect of of our daily lives - affecting how we group and label people in our minds, react to certain behaviors that are alien to us, and become isolated ...more
Oct 2016-A great challenge of a book. I was given this book by my pastor, who knew my love of psychology and living the Christian life. The author explores the ideas of purity, hospitality and mortality within the life of the church, society and the individual. I feel challenged to examine my own life and the way I treat people, not just within the church but in my daily encounters with those in need, those I cross paths with in my work life and those I love and choose to spend time with. I want ...more
Judy Egnew Ness
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
There is a dialectical tension between the physical and the spiritual, and Beck gives us a very thoughtful discussion of this tension within the body of Christ. I thought it read like a philosophy textbook at times but I was pulled in to his storytelling and humor. The human sense of disgust, and fear of contamination, has led to denigration and rejection of those deemed unsafe or unclean, and we have spoken and unspoken beliefs around elimination, sexual behavior, sickness, injury, aging, death ...more
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Everyone ought to read this book as a starting point for thinking about the intersection of Haidt's moral foundations work and Christian theology. For Christians the relevance is hopefully obvious; for non-Christians in the western world, this book should still prove to be an invaluable (if often troubling) analysis of what it is that drives Christian behavior and political engagement.
Bryan Cox
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
"God desires mercy, not sacrifice". These words are deeply impacting the way I consider and think about theology. Our drive towards purity (as a result of disgust) instead of hospitality is harmful, creating boundaries we largely aren't aware of in our homes, the church, the workplace etc. Critical to this kind of hospitality that welcomes, is the ability to understand my own neediness, my inability to save myself. Lots more to think about. Really interesting / relevant read.
David Gregg
Excellent! Richard Beck, on my short list of favorite living authors (due largely to his blog "Experimental Theology"), has written a book in the intersection of psychology and Christian practical theology. These sorts of intersections are critical to a circumspect and self-refining Christianity, and Beck does a good job introducing us to a few of the issues involved.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a psychological approach to the liberal-conservative divide in Christianity and the correspondi
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's been awhile since I've read a psychology book, felt good stretching those particular mental muscles again.

This book put a new lens on the idea of purity, for me. Beck articulated and explained, from a psychological perspective, some of the gut feelings I've had but been unable to rationalize, with regards to church culture and behavior especially. It's fascinating to delve into what disgusts us and why, and to realize that these almost instinctive impulses limit or completely block our abil
Andrew Marr
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most important books I've come across this past year & I've read a lot of books I think are important. The concept of impurity/uncleanness is a major element in religious traditions & so deserves & requires careful examination theologically & psychologically. Mary Douglas' "Purity and Danger" is a classic & Beck discusses some of her ideas, but this book cuts more deeply into how WE experience uncleanness & impurity, so this book is at least as practica ...more
Josh Barkey
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book made a little bit of my brain leak out my ears. In a good way. I bought it at a hyper-inflated internet price because I interact with Dr. Beck's blog on a regular basis, and I both wanted to see what he'd have to say in a longer format and to support him in his writing. I don't regret it.

Super-basic breakdown: Beck uses psychology to try to figure out why people in the Christian community are such turdbuckets to people who engage in moral behavior of which they don't approve. It would
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was so disturbing and so good at the same time. Written by a psychologist who tells us plainly how our disgust impacts our ability to love others, this book has great reports on little studies and insightful observations about the church. specifically, we shouldn't just say we need to get out there and love the unlovable, we need to realize what we are asking each other to do and the psychological trouble with it. I just can't recommend it highly enough--really really good. I'm reviewing it ...more
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very insightful look at the underlying driving forces behind some of our church-related behaviors of inclusion/exclusion. What we consider unclean is often more driven by our core disgust with things like body fluids and dirty food than with rational reflection. Being aware of the underlying factors can help us be more welcoming and hospitable in our missional lives. It is also fascinating to realize that sex and death are so closely tied together in our psyche, and it is our fear of death tha ...more
This is one of the few "theological" books I can wholeheartedly recommend to nonbelievers. Just revelation after revelation, page after page. I haven't read a book I literally years that has so thoroughly reshaped the way I see politics, theology, psychology, relationships, public discourse...pretty much everything. Don't think that the psychology of disgust affects your life? Well, I've got a book you should probably read.
Nov 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was really transformational to the way I think about many areas of my life - but in particular parenting and how I relate to people who are different than me. There wasn't much when it comes to solutions at the end but super thought provoking nonetheless.
Jason Lyle
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Lot of information. But really gives a perspective on how we view clean and unclean people.
Jul 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very good. Examines how we respond to "the other" who is not like us by looking at the psychology of disgust. Good read.
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Do you remember the green character in the movie "Inside Out?" Unclean is all about her. The author, Richard Beck, delves into the complexities of disgust psychology, specifically how our feelings of disgust affect how we treat those we deem dirty, contaminated or unclean.

His argument focuses on the trouble we find between the priestly and prophetic traditions in the Old Testament. In brief, the priestly tradition was concerned with holiness, purity and sacrifice, while the prophetic tradition
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Thoughtful and well-written, this book challenged me to think about how my life and relationships are influenced by subconscious feelings of disgust. Beck is a psychologist, yet he handles theological matters with the skill and attention to orthodoxy of a theologian. I now have a new understanding of Jesus' saying in Matthew 9:13, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Psychology, not unlike theology, is an inexact science, and not all of the conclusions Beck reaches, I felt, had compelling evidence. ...more
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this book Dr. Beck explains how our minds work in regard to feelings of disgust, explaining that there are certain universal disgust reactions that are likely to affect us in our desire to show mercy to others. Our reactions to people with infirmities or diseases, people with poor hygiene or shabby attire, or even racial repugnance that we were taught very early may deter us from showing mercy. Sacrifice is intended to enhance spirituality and purity, which we seek, but God said that he prefe ...more
Glen Grunau
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
A friend directed me to a podcast in which Richard Beck summarizes the thesis of his fascinating book:

The significance of his thesis struck me as profound. I bought his book the same day. Besides, it's not often I get the opportunity to read a significant theological work by a psychologist.

Beck immediately goes to Matthew 12 and takes the words of Jesus "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" to explain how Jesus deliberately turned the purity metaphor upsid
Steve Watson
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An absolute extraordinary exploration of the psychology of disgust and the radical implications of Jesus' call to the prophetic, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," that is heard in Matthew 9 and 12. Beck invites people and churches to the primary place of mercy, inclusion, and hospitality in our ministry, and the secondary place of holiness and purity. The reflections on our fear of death, some of the evolutionary roots of our human morality, the costs of secularism, and the radical implications o ...more
Kevin Finelli
Richard Beck takes interdisciplinary look at the psychology of disgust from a theological perspective. This gives us a new way to think about a number of different aspects of religious practice - holiness and purity, hospitality, tolerance vs. maintaining the integrity of one's community, just to name a few aspects touched upon. The central ideas take only a few minutes to explain, and you can hear Beck introduce this in a number of his interviews and blog posts. But here he has room to go in de ...more
Annette Maclean
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting read for those who enjoy the intersection of theology and psychology. Beck takes an indepth look at disgust psychology and examines its role in relation to the church and mission. I didn't quite enjoy the book as much as I thought I would (perhaps that's the nature of a topic such as disgust and that which informs it...) but worth reading none the less, especially for those interested in human psychology.
Mike McVey
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Started this book for a Wednesday night church class. It things got in the way and restarted about a month ago.

The author seems to be writing for the academy more than the church, but overall this book is very helpful understanding the psychological elements of disgust within the life of the church. His answer seems tame for churches who already practice this ritual but I would bet is revolutionary in those who do not practice it often.

Good book.
John Kohlhepp
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Superbly written from the vantage point of a psychologist. Systematically lays out the ideas and theory behind the psychology of disgust, starting with a basic high level overview of the biological response to disgust, then moving on to a sociamoral response to disgust and purity and the jumps into an extremely actionable response for the church and Christians. Read the conclusion!
Emily Anne
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for every Christian who cares to love the way Christ loved and not to simply remain comfortable in the stories we’ve created for ourselves about who gets to “count” and who doesn’t.
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Dr. Richard Beck is a Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, and he is the author of the popular blog Experimental Theology: The Thoughts, Articles and Essays of Richard Beck and the books The Slavery of Death, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality and The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience. As an experimental psycholog ...more
“On the playground, “cooties” seems harmless and innocuous (unless you’ve been on the other end of that game). But sociomoral disgust can quickly scale up in intensity and become the engine behind the very worst of human atrocities. During times of social stress or chaos, those persons or populations already associated with disgust properties will provide the community a location of blame, fear, and paranoia. In short, sociomoral disgust is implicated in the creation of monsters and scapegoats, where outgroup members are demonized and selected for exclusion or elimination. As David Gilmore writes in his book Monsters, a monster is “the demonization of the ‘Other’ in the image of the monster as a political device for scapegoating those whom the rules of society deem impure or unworthy - the transgressors and deviants.” These deviants are considered to be “deformed, amoral, [and] unsocialized to the point of inhumanness.” Take, for an example, the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew, where an early shot in the film showed rats emerging from a sewer juxtaposed with a crowd of Jewish persons in a Polish city. In America, as another example, proponents of anti-gay legislation have circulated pamphlets claiming that gay men eat human feces and drink human blood. In each of these instances, sociomoral disgust is used to demonize and scapegoat populations, creating “monsters” who are threatening to society.” 1 likes
“Specifically, how are we to draw the boundaries of exclusion and inclusion in the life of the church? Sacrifice—the purity impulse—marks off a zone of holiness, admitting the “clean” and expelling the “unclean.” Mercy, by contrast, crosses those purity boundaries. Mercy blurs the distinction, bringing clean and unclean into contact. Thus the tension. One impulse—holiness and purity—erects boundaries, while the other impulse—mercy and hospitality—crosses and ignores those boundaries.” 1 likes
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