I’m bringing up the Seven Deadly Sins because they were brought up in the comments the other day. They aren’t something I usually think about in the context of a sin grouping. They tend to be Catholic in focus and since I’m not Catholic my focus has never been on them. I know what they are. The comment made was that Pride was the worst of them. So I looked them up to see and compare.
The person who brought it up was making a word play but someone else still came along and mocked them for referring to pride as a sin. That got me thinking though, about the so-called Seven Deadly Sins.
The Seven Deadly Sins are:
Let’s break them down one by one outside of their normal religious context and think of them as behaviors rather than sins. We can have behaviors that are beneficial and behaviors that are harmful. Religion calls such things sins which comes in a round about way through a Latin word that means “guilt”. So our sins are what we are guilty of.
I will discuss them each below in my own way. This is not intended to be a comparison to any religion but rather how I view each of these things. It is not my intent to present a Catholic view but rather a secular one. You might just as well call them “The seven traits of a douche-bag” and it would still be rather accurate.
Pride is a focus on oneself and one’s abilities to the exclusion of others. In the traditional canon of these sins it is the worst because it is the one from which the others stem. Pride, in the sinful sense is not just feeling good about what you have done. It fits most closely with, “…the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance.” For example, “I’m proud of myself” doesn’t automatically mean you are guilty of pride. The kind of pride that is harmful is the kind that causes you to believe that you are better than others. This is dangerous because such a person can then justify behaving badly toward others because those others are less important. I can see how this is the sin from which the others arise. When a person thinks they are most important then they will focus on their own needs because, “they deserve it”. Whatever IT might be.
It is pride, I believe, that leads others to think they know better than you how you should live your life. Such people have come to see their world view as the best one and they put focus on that to the exclusion of other world views or ways of living. Their pride keeps them from seeing they might be wrong and their pride makes them feel they have a right to force you to behave. Don’t upset them. Don’t contradict them. Don’t suggest their way isn’t best.
There is a passage of scripture that fits, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?” (Obadiah 1:3) and the answer is given in the next verse if you are interested in looking it up. For our purposes here I want to draw focus on the word “deceived” because the kind of pride that is a deadly behavior is in fact a deception of the worst kind – a self-delusion.
For me, envy is the one that we so easily see in the world around us. It is, “…a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.” When acted upon such a feeling gives rise to all sorts of mischief. Think of those who decry the 1%. That someone else is rich is not what is making you poor. That someone else has something does not mean they robbed you of it or that you deserve it. I can also see how this rises from pride. Pride tells you that you deserve it and since you are better than them the other person (therefore) doesn’t deserve it. Why on earth do they have it and you don’t? That can’t be right!
Americans, we are told, are very fat. I seldom go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. The trough mentality I see makes it so I don’t enjoy myself much. I remember when I first noticed it. I was at a Chinese place, all you can eat and I noticed that no one there, not one person, looked happy. Here they were surrounded with plenty but they seemed to be taking no joy in it. When the newly cooked items came out they gravitated toward it and seemed irritated that someone else got there first. Though food was all around they acted as if they would never see another bite if they didn’t get one of the fresh egg rolls. Gluttony is, “…habitual greed or excess in eating.” It was very evident that day. After that revelation I swore off all-you-can-eat places because they are all you can eat, not all you should eat.
With pornography all over the place lust is just a mouse click away. It is defined, “…very strong sexual desire.” Which on the face of it doesn’t sound all that terrible. However, when acted upon it can have consequence that are long reaching. This is especially true if the object of that lust is not the person you are married to. At first lust seems kind of exciting to people. It feels good. Howe can that be harmful? After eating a huge meal at an all you can eat place you at least feel sick and regretful that you ate too much. But lust, that’s not always so full of regret. Lust isn’t the same as attraction. It is an excess that takes over the intellect. A person, once lusted after, becomes the object or your lust and not a person anymore. They aren’t a factor, only you are and how you feel.
We all get angry so it’s hard to think of anger as a sin. We’ve continued to use that word – sin – which always seems to carry with it a religious connotation so I remind the reader that here I use it just as a behavior. How does it feel to be angry? To have, “…a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility”? I personally do not like to be angry. You cannot be angry and happy at the same time. Anger washes away happiness. Think about the angry people protesting, shouting, getting all grouchy and gray over this issue or that. And anger begets anger. Two angry people don’t discuss, they just rant and feel. It’s only after the anger is exhausted that they can talk it out.
This is an interesting one for me. We hear it used quite often that someone is greedy. The 1% are greedy. Capitalism is a greedy system. The thing about greed is, you can’t really know if another person is greedy or not. Greed is, “…intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” You cannot gauge the intensity of someone’s desire very well nor their selfishness if you don’t know them personally. Notice it reads intense AND selfish not OR. Someone can have an intense desire for money but if they desire it to give to others they aren’t greedy, it requires selfishness. Someone can want to earn money to spend it on themselves but if the desire is moderate and not intense, they aren’t greedy. But how can you or anyone else determine in the 1% with any accuracy where their desires are?
But this isn’t about who isn’t greedy, it’s about who is. When someone is greedy what is so wrong with that? What is wrong with having an intense and selfish desire for something? Such people never settle down, are never satisfied with life. They often never really live life in a meaningful way. Greed is a motivation to take from others in an environment of scarcity.
Greed isn’t just taking more than you need though. A person can take what they need and then store some up for rainy day and not be greedy. What does actual greed look like in our modern world? It can be the ruin of companies and of households too. There is the saying that “it takes money to make money” and for the most part this is true. Someone who is greedy will tend to take risks. Companies that strive for ever more tend to fail. A company can last for 100 years if managed well and fail over night when greed sets in. It’s an irony that often the quest for wealth driven by greed ends up making an individual poor.
Greed puts one thing ahead of all other things, many of which are more important and the loss of which creates distress.
If I had put sloth first, I might not have written the above 1300 words. I might not do much of anything. The cute and interesting animal (a friend of mine) the sloth, is named after this deadly sin. He’s so slow and takes his time getting where he’s going that green algae literally grows on his back. But this title is misapplied to my little friend. That algae blends him right in with his environment. He’s not being lazy, he’s being purposeful.
A person, though, who is being slothful, isn’t purposeful at all. The root of the word is slow but it now has a stronger connotation than just not moving fast. Sloth is, “…reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness.” To be lazy, or slothful, is to be unwilling to work. A truly slothful person is rather unwilling to put forth any effort on their own behalf or for the sake of others. It is easy to see how such a behavior can be detrimental to a person’s well-being.
You don’t have to be religious at all to see the benefits of avoiding these behaviors.
Though it may have been religion that put these into a list and tried to quantify them they are not exclusive to religion. The difference is in one you believe that God doesn’t like you to do these things and in the other you realize that you aren’t happy when you do them. Of course there is the chance that the reason God doesn’t like us to do them is that he knows they make us unhappy and he wants us to be happy. Which ever way of looking at it fits you is fine with me. It’s just that after reflecting on these things I realize that they are valid rules for living regardless of their origin.