Sunday, July 11, 2010

Seven deadly sins

(This barn has nothing to do with the material below; it just looks nice and speaks diligent conservation.)

Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony: these are the sins that have been classified by the church as having the power to interrupt the state of grace and land us in perdition. These are the seven “deadly”, “cardinal”, or “mortal” sins, as opposed to the “venial” sins like (I’m guessing here) chewing your fingernails.

We’re reviewing them through a series of sermons by pastor AF, alongside their corresponding virtues (hard work is the antithesis of sloth, for instance). And, I suspect, most of us are being given another look at behaviours we’ve come over time to see as bad habits or addictions as opposed to “sins.” Whether this shift in thinking is a by-product of the advance of Psychological research and practice, an increasing scepticism about the literal existence of an evil god who tempts and entraps us, or just a natural consequence of post modernism is what I’m pondering these days when I should be mowing the lawn. (I don’t multitask very well.)

Call it what you will, there is something decidedly deadly about--for instance--wrath. We’ve seen the deadening effect of that fog of habitual rage in which many people walk their daily lives. We hear news daily about some lost soul killing, kidnapping, raping in an outburst of wrath that has probably been festering untreated for years. Deadly is definitely the right word.

One concern I have with calling wrath a sin is that it may be dismissive of the precursors and the treatment of it, whereas medical practice attempts to find root causes and prescribe treatment regimens. In the church, of course, the solution to rage is rebirth, however that is described: a miraculous reformation in other words. And yet, rage is as much a problem inside the church as outside, and to dismiss this phenomenon among Christians as “backsliding” or failing to embrace real salvation is problematic. At the same time, there are plenty of witnesses to the transforming power of a genuine, born again experience.

In any case, people come under the spell of one or more of the “seven deadly sins” developmentally. Children of abusers are statistically far more likely to be abusers themselves than are children of loving, conscientious parents, for instance. The key must lie in the nurturance or neglect of maturing human beings, and those who repeatedly tout the virtues of punishment as a means to a cure must be shouted down.

Maybe sloth is the greatest of the sins (or bad behaviours) in the end. Too lazy to do the harder work of nurturance and inspired education, we have too often seized on the strap as a quick, handy response to inappropriate actions in children. The prison system is little more than the same, old, slothful response to deviance that the very advocates of harsh punishment have been implicated in causing. An ounce of prevention is way cheaper than a ton of “cure.”

I’m appreciating the sermon series. The use of the word sin probably serves to underline the seriousness of the kind of cultural decay that allows wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony to flourish, while the tried and true virtues (humility, perseverance, moderation, forgiveness, love, generosity and tolerance) wither on the vine.

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