Monday, March 10, 2008

7 New Deadly Sins

The Roman Catholic church has issued an updated list of the 7 deadly sins. For those of you who weren't listening to Sister Agnes in Sunday school, the original list is:
  • Pride
  • Envy
  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Envy
  • Sloth
  • Greed
(interesting to note that 5 of these 7 are a form of covetousness - wanting more of what you've already got enough of, or wanting stuff that belongs to other people)

The new list is:
  • genetic modification,
  • carrying out experiments on humans,
  • polluting the environment,
  • causing social injustice,
  • causing poverty,
  • becoming obscenely wealthy
  • taking drugs.

All this is according to a key chappy at the Vatican, who has been leading a week of training for priests on how to do a good confession. I think the idea is to put more of a focus onto corporate and social sins, alongside just individual stuff.

The Telegraph has an interesting set of comments on this, offering alternative sins such as not looking where you're going whilst texting, and Morris Dancing. Fair enough. Some of the commenters point out that the Catholic church itself is guilty of several of the items on its own list.

Why do we need to identify sin anyway? To me it comes down to whether sin is crime or diagnosis. If it's simply a crime against God, then identifying lists of sins is a way of controlling or modifying behaviour, and holding a big stick over people (provided they're afraid of going to Hell, or of the disapproval of their priest). Seeing sin as diagnosis seems to be more fruitful: a diagnosis identifies disease so that something can be done about it. God's goal is that we should be healed, whole, fully human, not just good little boys and girls. It's a lot easier to point the finger than it is to change, but Jesus came not to point the finger but to change people.

The Vatican list is good in 1 way, in that it's more explicit about what gluttony and greed look like. But it's also too shallow - by naming sin as specific actions, rather than the motivations, social currents and character traits driving them, it doesn't actually diagnose at any depth. It focuses on the symptoms rather than the disease. Surely that sells the Gospel short?

Update: I spent, ooh, 5 minutes trying to find the original source for this and eventually gave up. Damian Thomson has found a comment from the RC church, explaining that this wasn't really what they meant at all. Too late chaps. If Rowan Williams can be misquoted online before he's even spoken, that might have been a learning experience for other communications bods in the church.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say this whole thing of identifying things we do as "sins" strikes me as rather Pelagian and shallow. The original list of 7 describes motives in us, not just actions... things in all of us to watch out for, not just things we can kid ourselves only other people do.