Lately I've been spending an inordinate amount of time pondering the seven deadly sins. I go through this deranged exercise every now and then, first listing the sins in my mind, then ranking them in order of deadliness, and then trying to unravel the mystery of why these particular sins were picked for the top seven.
My most recent musings were inspired by Seven, a movie about a serial killer whose victims personify the killer's concept of each sin. The movie was very well done, but it also was grisly and depressing. First it gave me nightmares, and then it got me mulling over those damn sins again. Now it's your turn.
In no particular order (I'll arrange them later), the sins are gluttony, sloth, pride, lust, envy, greed and anger. You may wonder why such unlovely traits as cruelty, dishonesty, cowardice, and pettiness didn't make the cut, but don't ask me. I didn't make the list.
Often the seven deadlies harm the perpetrator more than the victim. This only adds to my confusion, since I think harming others is more sinful than harming oneself. Harming oneself falls more under the heading of stupidity, and if stupidity is sinful, why didn't it make the list?
Let's look at the sins that did make the list. On the deadliness scale, I would rank gluttony slightly lower than jaywalking. It's only deadly to others when cannibalism is involved, and if you're bent on self-destruction, smoking, and drinking are a whole lot more effective.
Sloth is even more innocuous. In today's workaholic world, an increase in sloth would be downright therapeutic. Its deadliness quotient is pretty close to zero, unless you're prone to sleeping on small children or napping on the freeway.
Then there's lust, which I don't count as a sin at all. Like any urge compelling a bodily function, lust is neither moral nor immoral. It spices up our lives and provides an incentive to continue our species, and I'll be saddened if the Republicans stamp it out. Sure, some people (including some fat admirers) manifest their lust in an offensive manner, but that's only because they lack self control, decency, or class. So why not make deception and boorishness deadly sins, and take lust off the list? Let's be fair about this.
Envy and greed are a lot less piddly. I certainly think they qualify as sins, and they even can be deadly in extreme circumstances. Both often harm innocent bystanders, although they tend to do the most damage to their owners. To me, envy and greed are pretty much on the same level as dishonesty and cowardice, but my moral perception lacks the corrective lens of religious scholarship that might have enabled me to see the difference.
Of the seven, pride and anger are the heavy hitters. Their operation is often subtle and subconscious, which helps increase their deadliness. They very often work in tandem, both with one another and in conjunction with the less deadly sins.
Either one can be directed within or without. Turned inward, pride and anger can cause guilt, destruction of self esteem, depression, and even suicide. When they are directed outward but muted by fear of confrontation, the result is negativity and passive aggression. Without the fear of confrontation, they cause active aggression, violence, and on a grand scale, dictatorship and war.
Combine enough anger and pride with lust, and rape will follow. Mix the two with greed, and robbery, theft or extortion will result. On a smaller scale, anger and pride cause squabbling, inability to compromise, nit-picking, and a general unwillingness to be reasonable.
Pride and anger are the particular bane of fat people and their admirers. Unevolved fat admirers allow their selfish pride and lust to motivate their exploitation of fat women. Unenlightened fat women allow their anger to render them bitter and spiteful. Virtually all of the squabbles, in-fighting and tacky behavior plaguing the size acceptance movement proceed from unenlightened self-interest or unmanaged rage.
The antidote to pride and anger is compassionate awareness. Without awareness, the need for compassion can become blurred by emotions and desires. Without compassion, awareness becomes calculating and heartless, leading at its worst to premeditated exploitation and cruelty. Such behavior is not merely negligent and stupid, as blind acts of passion tend to be: rather, it is the essence of evil. If any behavior is to be considered sinful, let it be this.
In the end, the seven deadly sins are no more than medieval mythology. But the meaning and power of myth extends far beyond language. While attempting to dissect it with reason, we become captivated by its mystery. ß