Dear Faith & Purity,

These words have positive connotations for most people. In fact, I just conducted a small survey here at the coffee shop, and two out of two baristas polled revealed that they viewed the words "faith" and "purity" in a "generally positive light." Is N=2 a small sample size? Some would say so. But I defined my objectives and parameters before the study began and stuck to them throughout, significantly reducing the likelihood of intentional or inadvertent P-hacking. Consequently, my survey's results are, on the whole, probably just as scientifically valid as most of the psychology research out there.

Suck on that sweet social sciences burn, Amy Cuddy et al.

So it's an established, scientific fact that most people think of both faith and purity as positive attributes. In fact, people like the concepts of faith and purity so much that the occasional baby girl is even named after one of these twin virtues (Faith is admittedly a bit more popular than Purity). 

It's an oddly optimistic phenomenon, naming children after things you want them to be or have. Take Constance, Grace, Charity, Hope or Chastity for example. Does anyone know a Charity who actually dumps more quarters into the Salvation Army bell ringer's bucket than anyone else at Christmas because of her name? The whole concept reveals an aspirational desperation that seems more likely to backfire in delicious irony than to achieve the desired result. I've yet to meet someone named Porsche, Mercedes, or Ferrari who actually drove one, and I've never met a woman named Chastity who was.

But even if aspirational names were 100% effective, are faith and purity really the ideals we want our children to aspire to?

Let's start with faith. We use it to indicate a wide spectrum of trust in stuff. "Faith" spans the gamut from cautious confidence to unwarranted credulity to dogmatic zealotry in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

You have to have some level of faith in the credibility of the U.S. Treasury before you'll agree to receive your paycheck in a fiat currency such as the U.S. dollar. People have to have faith in the fairness of a democratic process before they'll lay down their weapons and agree to share power based upon electoral results. This is good faith. It's a necessity for trade, business, systems of justice, etc. And it's eyes-wide-open faith, which is good, because sometimes that faith is betrayed.

Then there's the more biased faith you have in people and things in which you are emotionally invested. The odds are against you, but you decide to proceed as if the odds were in your favor. You lend your shifty friend $500 even though you know it's probably a mistake to do so. You take your kid's side in a dispute during a parent-teacher conference, even though you suspect your child may actually be in the wrong. You refuse to believe that your spouse is cheating on you, even though things are starting to look pretty damn suspicious. Sometimes this faith is a good thing; sometimes it's not. It can hold families, governments & teams together through tough times. But sometimes it causes you to overlook important information, or to make bad decisions which you regret later. This is one-eye-closed faith, which is unfortunate, because one-eyed faith is often betrayed.

Finally, we have full-tilt, unhinged, delusional, bat-shit crazy faith. This is when you want to believe in something so badly that you'd rather shove your head up your own ass than come to terms with the evidence directly in front of you. You catch your spouse naked in bed with another person and delude yourself into thinking that they were just having an innocent tickle fight. You're pretty sure we'll find the Lock Ness Monster one of these days. You adamantly believe that a particular bronze-age Hebrew deity by the name of  יהוה created the universe six thousand years ago even though you've personally pulled rocks out of your own garden that were a thousand times older than that. This is bad faith. This is blind faith. This is the kind of faith that emboldens abortion clinic- and suicide bombers alike. This is the kind of delusional rejection of reality that might lead a fanatic to unleash nuclear destruction in the hopes of hastening the advent of Armageddon. Like closing your eyes and running in any one direction indefinitely, any blind faith is virtually certain to be betrayed eventually.

You'll notice that the more extreme the faith, the higher the likelihood is that said faith is ill-placed. This isn't a coincidence. The Wizard of Oz only requests your faith because there's a fraud behind the curtain. An honest wizard doesn't care how skeptical you are or how many curtains you peek behind.

If you're in a dark alley and a guy tells you to take off your pants and bend over, it's probably because he wants to fuck you up the ass. If someone tells you to ignore the reality in front of your own eyes and have blind faith in him... it's probably because he wants to fuck you up the ass.

Faith isn't like love, joy, happiness or wisdom. Life doesn't improve linearly in response to having more and more faith. If life satisfaction and faith were on a graph together, with life satisfaction on the y-axis and faith on the x-axis, a bell curve would emerge. Faith is like salt. You need a little to survive, more can be good to a certain point, but then the effects eventually become deleterious, spiraling down into insanity and finally death.

I won't be naming my kid Faith anytime soon, but at least Faith is a mixed bag. Purity has even fewer redemptive qualities.

Purity might seem like a great idea at first gleam, but unless you're working quality control at a pharmaceutical company or you're buying commemorative silver dollars from the U.S. mint, purity isn't everything it's cracked up to be.

The royal families of Europe thought pure bloodlines were a great idea. 

The Habsburgs hoarded all of that pure, majestic blood for themselves. 
Results were mixed. This is a picture of a man, by the way.

Francis Galton went at a similar idea from a more scientific point of view and coined the term "eugenics" in 1883. He thought concepts like racial purity would become very important in the future. He was right.

What a lovely, racially-pure family. I'm not sure why there's a little demon with a bowl 
cut hovering behind the woman's  right shoulder, but aside from that, they all look very pure.

Aside from human genetics, there are like a trillion things that are better off impure.

I love dark chocolate. I'll even go as high as 99% cacao, but pure? That's just crazy talk.

Mutts are healthier and less prone to a host of genetic ailments than their pure-bred counterparts.

Children who grow up in sterile, urban environments are more likely to develop allergies and quite possibly auto-immune diseases later in life.

Adult humans carry around up to 5 lbs of bacteria in their guts and these tiny bacteria outnumber the human cells in our bodies by a factor of 10. Unlike the Android mobile OS, pure human doesn't work as well as human + bacterial bloatware.

More than 90% of all metal used by humans for any purpose is used as part of an alloy, not in its pure form. That's because alloys are awesome. 98% of all iron ore pulled out of the ground is mixed with impurities (carbon) to make something much more bad-ass than iron- steel. Gold is a big soft pussy until you add copper. And don't hold your breath waiting for copper to suddenly find its independent side either. Copper's about as self-reliant as a new-born puppy with a heroin problem.

Pure Democracy? Pure Capitalism? Pure Socialism? Pure Kantian Ethics? Pure Stoicism? No, no, no, no, and no. They're all routinely tempered by pragmatism, and they're all impractical & unsustainable in their pure forms.

Everclear tastes awful. White furniture is pretentious. The PURE Collection's autumn cashmere singles are uninspired and overpriced this year.

And don't get me started on the religious notions of sexual purity. There's nothing inherently pure about being a virgin, and there's nothing impure about not being one. Those associations were arbitrarily assigned by patriarchs trying to codify mating rights within their ancient societies. "Pure" in the moral sense just means you've separated all of the "bad stuff" out from the "good stuff." But who gets to decide what the bad stuff is? 

Purity is a synthetic concept- it doesn't exist in nature. Water contains traces of the minerals it flows through; air is a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and argon; even the pure empty space we thought existed between galaxies turns out to be filled with clumps of dark matter. In fact, purity doesn't exist in the man-made world either. Purity is like infinity- it can be approached ever more closely, but by definition never achieved. The purest gold or the purest chemical is only pure to within a certain margin of impurity. People refine something to 99.9999999% purity and then eventually someone says, "Fuck it. That's good enough. Let's call it a day."

Purity is a theoretical ideal which exists only as a concept within the minds of religious nuts, OCD germophobes like Howie Mandel, and people who think they're part of a master race.

I say down with purity. Let's alloy and temper. Let's mix and match. Let's get dirty. Chastity would be proud.

Sebastian Braff


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