04 March 2009

Lessons in Sin

The seven deadly (cardinal) sins are:

lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride

The last weekend of Carnival a small group of us were sitting in a bar trying to remember all seven. Luckily, somebody had an Iphone (or something like it...) and looked it up on the spot. "Lust?!" I cried (probably a bit intoxicated). "Lust is a sin? Why?" Other questions that arose for me:

  • Who chose the seven?
  • What is sloth?
  • What's the difference between gluttony and greed?
  • Are there seven specific punishments attached to these sins?
  • Is there another list of non-deadly sins?

With Mardi Gras behind me, the space opens to look into this question. Wikipedia breaks it down this way: lust as defined by Dante is "excessive love of others," i.e., not loving God most of all. In other corridors it is understood as "excessive sexual thoughts and desires" where excessive means a level that gives over to addiction or criminal behavior.

Most of the sources I consulted attribute creation of the list to the Catholic Church. Wouldn't you know it? Those Catholics and their lists. At 14, I almost converted to Catholicism. More than any religion familiar to me at the time, Catholicism offered an orderliness and drama that I found irresistible. My best friend at the time was a Catholic and attending Mass with her left me weak and trembling: all that perfume and colored brocade and chanting...

I had a similar reaction after seeing "The Godfather." The Family's
unflinching adherence to code and their passion really grabbed me. Hum, come to think of it: they were Catholic, too, weren't they?

There's also something rebellious about the Catholics. I was raised Baptist where there was (apparently) a Biblical precedent or reference for everything we sang, said or sipped. By contrast, the Catholics made up all kinds of stuff on their own.

They chose which vices to include in the list. I never even heard about 7 Deadly Sins until after I left the Baptists. The list doesn't show up in the Bible anywhere. For Baptists, sin is sin and none is worse than any other for all intents and purposes. Wikipedia's entry on the 7 deadly sins includes a section entitled "Biblical References".

Proverbs 6:16-19
  • (17) A proud look,
  • a lying tongue,
  • and hands that shed innocent blood,
  • (18) A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations,
  • feet that be swift in running to mischief,
  • (19) A false witness that speaketh lies,
  • and he that soweth discord among brethren.
I guess once a Baptist always a Baptist: this list makes more sense to me and even standing as far as I do from all churchiness, I could honor this list of seven.

Sloth. No surprise that this sin should especially grab my attention. Again, from Wikipedia:

...it was first called the sin of sadness or despair. It had been in the early years of Christianity characterized by what modern writers would now describe as melancholy: apathy, depression, and joylessness — the last being viewed as ... refusal to enjoy the goodness of God and the world God created. ...Sadness (tristitia in Latin) described a feeling of dissatisfaction or discontent, which caused unhappiness with one's current situation. ... Dante [described] sloth as ... "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul." [italics are mine]... In his "Purgatorio", the slothful penitents were made to run continuously at top speed.

The modern view of the vice, ... is that it represents the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts. For example, a student who does not work beyond what is required (and thus fails to achieve his or her full potential) could be labeled slothful.

Current interpretations ... portray sloth as being more simply a sin of laziness or indifference, of an unwillingness to act, an unwillingness to care (rather than a failure to love God and his works). For this reason sloth is now often seen as being considerably less serious than the other sins, ...

The sloth, a South American mammal, was named after this sin by Roman Catholic explorers.

I don't deny it: I am slothful. However you define it, "slothful" has been an accurate description of my behavior and attitude. Melancholy, depressed, failing to reach potential.... The punishment for this sin is hilarious irony since I have assiduously avoided being busy or moving fast most of my life. Noteworthy that the two sins that grabbed my attention--lust and sloth--are in fact related. Lust is loving others more than God; sloth is not loving God enough. This places a whole new light on my decision to pursue a career in the ministry, my focus on the intersections and similarities between sex and religion while in the program, AND my subsequent dropping out....

Final note: check out this little bit of info on the mammal of the same name:

Sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly: they have about a quarter as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator ... but they burn large amounts of energy doing so. Their specialized hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside-down from branches without effort[8]. While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from limbs. They sometimes remain hanging from branches after death. ...

So now sloth joins turtle as one of my animal totems.

1 comment:

  1. Brian McCaffertyWed May 06, 07:40:00 PM

    I'm catching up ... I call it indolence. That has more the flavor of willful decadence. I'm a master of indolence.


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