Physiognomy and the preservation of the flesh

A little while back, I discussed that you can often see a person’s wickedness by examining his appearance:

Wickedness corrupts and destroys, and frequently that destruction involves the body itself. . . .Righteousness exalts a man. However good-looking or bad-looking a person may be, he will look even better if he embraces righteousness — because he will be better.

Of course, I should probably have also clarified that such a principle would operate most significantly in cases of long-term wickedness. Just as you can see smile lines on people who are happy all the time, you can often tell mean people by the expressions permanently etched on their faces. Looking at demeanor and physical vibrance, you can see the wimpiness of men who live their lives like women and the ugliness of women who live like men. And then of course, the wear and tear on the body and mind produced by the abuse of drugs, alcohol, or promiscuous sex is not usually all that difficult to spot.

But anyway, what brought this subject back to my attention was a post at another blog that advocated essentially the same point:

Face and body are witnesses of character–a fact of the human scene that people once readily acknowledged. There was even a science called physiognomic that attempted to catalogue and interpret facial and bodily expression and to draw moral conclusions from close observation of aspectual (having to do with the face) traits and bodily dispositions.

So when I wrote my post attacking the hideousness of many Democrats, I guess I was just ahead of my time! Or behind my time. Or something. But I do think that there is something to this “physiognomy.” The whole book The Portrait of Dorian Gray was about this principle that evil corrupts the flesh. Even the Bible states,

Psalm 91
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 . . . .
If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
   and you make the Most High your dwelling, 
no harm will overtake you,
   no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
   you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
   I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.”

Modern Christians do not really teach this point much. But maybe they should.

While it is true that no one perfectly loves God in this life and that God therefore does not perfectly preserve us from serpents and stones in this life, such a blessed status is of course something positive to pursue. And when we make no effort to pursue a righteous lifestyle, it usually is reflected in our faces and demeanor.

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2 Responses to “Physiognomy and the preservation of the flesh”


  1. 1 Glenn E. Chatfield November 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    This was actually the point of Dorian Gray. The painting of his face changed hideously to go along with the evil he was perpetrating.

  2. 2 Drew November 27, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    A fairly intelligent story, I say


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