So there I was, painting around the open window in the upstairs bathroom with nothing to break the monotony but the occasional upward wafting of the septic tank …

So there I was, painting around the open window in the upstairs bathroom with nothing to break the monotony but the occasional upward wafting of the septic tank …

and as is often the case in such mental  ‘down time’, I got to thinking.

This time it was an extended meditation  on Victorian innovations in sanitation.

There’s absolutely no doubt those guys did absolute wonders for public health and social equity, but my problem with the septic tank, it occurred to me, arises out of a fundamental misconception that they worked with.

Since the Victorian era, it seems that public health policy has revoved around the idea that the solution to pollution is dilution.

The solution to pollution is dilution?

Earlier sanity arrangements … whether pit based or of the ‘bucket and chuck it’ variety … relied on aerobic decomposition of waste at (or close to) site before removal to some land-based location to complete the nitrogen cycle by adding nutrients to soil to grow – food!

The Victorians innovated water-based systems, giving us the opportunity of OUR waste becoming SOMEONE ELSE’s problem and placing it into an anaerobic decomposition situation … with nitrogenous nutrients going to water-courses, or into expensive and relatively energy intensive sewage treatment plants where the first major challenge is to get rid of all that water that’s carried it there and ultimately dumping high nutrient waste into the sea.

Victorian sanitary provision at Cwmdu Inn, Carmarthenshire

Now, the trouble with that is that it takes the oxygen out of the water as it degrades anaerobically and this is bad for fish (which suffocate), causes algal bloom, and kicks off a host of undesirable effects.

I’ve simplified, but that analysis is  ‘good enough for agriculture’ … and it’s all because the Victorians worked on  the apparently upright but actually quite destructive premise that the solution  to pollution is dilution.

Not a great theory of life …

And every day I meet people living their lives as if the answer to moral pollution (we call it ‘sin’) was also going to be dilution.

As if good character was some sort of old fashioned beam balance weighing scale where you can ‘balance’ some favourite sin or weakness with an act of human kindness!

If only that were so – we could have a right old time and STILL keep a clear conscience! But sadlyGod’s Word makes it clear that it’s dreamland.


It is dreamland for the phone-hacking tabloids to point to their high profile, media spun, campaigning ‘good works’.

And it is insincere of us when we live our lives doing just as we wish, to the cost of ourselves and others around us, but point to our charitable donations as a fig leaf cover-up excuse.

Filthy rags

Nobody’s going to be duped by this, because the truth will come out … and worst of all, it isn’t going to fool God. His prophet Isaiah put it well: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel
up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

As far as God is concerned, the solution to ‘pollution’ clearly isn’t going to be ‘dilution’ … swilling it away on a flush-tide of philanthropy and good works that won’t sort out the problem. We don’t need dilution, we need salvation!


About welshrev

Simon is a church planting pastor and Rural Chaplain based at Grace Church Llandeilo and serving the Heart of Wales. He has a Facebook page as Rev Simon Bowkett and the Grace Church website has lots of information and resources at Facebook page is 'Grace Christian Community Llandeilo' ... you would be welcome to drop by there for a chat!
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