Purity – A Force for Good

By Ken Noble

Ken Noble

Women and girls are having a tough time. Whether things have got worse in this generation or not is hard to say but more and more evidence of their mistreatment is coming to light. Every day we hear reports of women being humiliated, discriminated against, harassed, touched inappropriately, physically assaulted – in sporting venues, in schools, in domestic situations, at work, on the streets. These are not just one-off incidents but appear to be endemic within British society.

The causes and potential cures are, no doubt, many and varied. There are legislative approaches and, clearly, education of young people is an essential part of any solution. 

Some will point to the ever-increasing number of families that are breaking up, often leaving women and children vulnerable, both physically and psychologically; and some will point to the epidemic of violent pornography which is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, subconsciously teaching men to see women as sub-human objects. There is truth in both of these views – although it is perhaps too easy to assume that all was rosy when a ‘stable’ marriage was the norm. 

Whatever the laws, customs and mores of a culture, the way in which men and boys treat women and girls essentially comes down to personal behaviour. And behaviour is notoriously hard to change through legal and political means.

It may be out of fashion but ‘purity’ has great relevance here. I don’t believe that it was for nothing that Christ said ‘how blessed are those whose hearts are pure’. And most, if not all, major religions take that view. It was certainly a corner-stone of Frank Buchman’s approach when he developed Initiatives of Change (as it is now known) a century ago. According to Philip Boobbyer in The Spiritual Vision of Frank Buchman, the words from a Charles Wesley hymn – ‘make and keep me pure within’ – were described by Buchman as the greatest six words in the English language.

But what did Buchman mean by purity – or even his oft-advocated ‘absolute purity’? Boobbyer says that in Buchman’s mind it was ‘associated with sexual discipline but… also covered purity of motive in relationships’. Not that Buchman saw purity as a set of prohibitions. He essentially believed that it was a liberating force. ‘He saw a direct connection between purity and constructive moral energy.’ This accords with Christ’s statement that the pure will see God – which seems to imply, at the very least, that purity leads to spiritual discernment and frees people up for the great tasks involved in ‘building the Kingdom of God’, or as Buchman expressed it, ‘remaking the world’. Purity as an end in itself is probably not attractive to many. But as a means to effectiveness in bringing about creative change in the world, it has a lot going for it.

I can only write from personal experience. Purity is a value that I have aspired to live since I decided to live as God intended in my late teens. I’d be the last person to say that I had been successful at it. And I doubt if there’s a man living who can claim to have attained complete purity. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. As I see it, if I’m doing my utmost, with God’s help, to attain purity of thought and word, I am far more likely to achieve purity in my deeds. This means treating women, and all people whatever their gender, as they deserve, with honour, dignity and respect. It shouldn’t need saying that it also means believing that women have at least as great a role in society as men do. 

As a man, I feel sorry that so many of my sex make life miserable for people of the opposite sex. In this day when so many people are concerned about offending people who are ‘other’ isn’t it time that we men made it a priority to treat all women, all people, as we would want others to treat our own partners, parents, siblings and children?

Ken has been working and volunteering with Initiatives of Change since 1971, having had ‘a profound about-turn’ in his life whilst studying physics at Imperial College, London, in 1969.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

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