"The Color of Sin"

An article in Scientific American entitled The Color of Sin--Why the Good Guys Wear White posits that "ancient fears of filth and contagion may explain why we think of morality in black and white."

The article cites the findings of a series of experiments in which words with "strong moral overtones" were printed in either black or white type, and shown to subjects who were asked to categorize what they saw (this is a variation of the Stroop test, a more familiar incarnation of which is found in games where participants are shown colored shapes with the name of the color printed in a different color). According to the researchers, there was a strong correlation between the identification of words printed in black as "immoral" and those in white as "moral."

The words used in the study were categorized by the researchers as immoral, neutral, or moral and included: cheat, crime, devil, hell, neglect, sin, torment, vulgar, aspect, calm, concert, east, motion, recall, sum, aid, angel, brave, charity, grace, honesty, saint, virtue.

They then extended the test and found that people "who expressed the strongest desire for an array of cleaning products were also those most likely to link morality with white and immorality with black."

I have no idea what to do with that last finding, but I can provide the researchers with some direction regarding their overall findings, as I think they're off base. Here's what they say:

Because of the shared connection of blackness and immorality with impurity, valence-darkness associations in the moral domain have a metaphorical quality. Accordingly, the concept of immorality should activate "black," not because immoral things tend to be black, but because immorality acts like the color black (e.g., it contaminates).

Wrong. Black is representative of sin not because it contaminates, but because it hides. That's why the Bible frequently contrasts good and evil in terms of light and dark, proxies for white and black. (e.g. Ephesians 5:11; 1 John 1:6-7; Ephesians 5: 8-10) Humans seeks out the darkness to do their evil deeds in the mistaken assumption that they can hide those deeds from others, or even more laughably, from God. Indeed, we are amazingly successful in hiding our shortcomings from other people; we're absolute failures when it comes to fooling God. Some of the accounts of the earliest human behavior involved man's attempt to hide his actions from God (see Adam and Eve in the Garden; Cain's murder of his brother).

I hope the aforementioned study wasn't paid for with my tax dollars. Their questions could have been better answered by reading a $2 copy of the New Testament.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on November 10, 2009 6:55 AM.

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