Smile Politely

The More or Less Seven Social Sins

Commandments, like best movies and most wanted fugitives, come in batches of ten. Deadly Sins, like wonders of the world and highly effective habits, come in batches of seven. This makes sins and commandments somewhat like hot dogs and hot dog buns, which also come in different quantities, and require you forever to go to the store to buy more of each, in a futile attempt to have the same number. Perhaps that’s what God had in mind with commandments and sins. At the end of the day, do leftover commandments or sins require church attendance to reconcile?  Only theologians know for sure.

The Vatican has just made everything more complicated though, because they have recently added seven more sins to worry about. The original deadly seven, placed more or less into the nine circles of Dante’s hell (again with the mismatched numbers) are listed below, in increasing order of sinfulness:

  1. Lust
  2. Gluttony
  3. Greed
  4. Sloth
  5. Wrath
  6. Envy
  7. Pride

These are some solid sins, well-tested through the pages of time, and provide the bedrock of motivation for every evil villain in history. Without them, life would be a bore and movies would consist entirely of rainbows and unicorns.

However, there is a problem with these sins, and it is the same problem inherent in many forms of Christian salvation too: There is no requirement for any kind of social consciousness. You might be personally lust-filled, but there is no requirement that your lust hurt others in order for it to be considered a sin. In other words, sin can be completely private.

Likewise, Christian salvation is too often about me, me, me, without any kind of wider responsibility to the lives of others. It reduces heaven to an exclusive (but eternal) Club Med vacation. Too often, it becomes a way for people to feel superior to those who are not part of their in-group, without having to do anything of value for the wider world.

What’s needed is a more socially responsible view of both sin and salvation. Wouldn’t life be better for everyone if there was no such thing as personal salvation? Imagine if everyone in your town either goes to The Heaven Club as a group or no one goes at all, depending on how fair, good and righteous everyone generally is to each other. I bet we’d see a lot more people sign up for mentoring if that were the case. Fair wages would become common, schools would get all the money they need, and rehabilitation would become the primary goal of prison. We’d all be so busy addressing our collective social problems that we wouldn’t have time to waste on condemning others who don’t believe in our version of God.

So I was excited to hear that a Vatican official had created a new list of seven “social sins.” Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican’s “number two man” in the area of sin and penance, unveiled them last spring. [Total side-note: How do you become the number two guy for sin and penance? And what qualities are lacking in the number two guy that prevents him from being the number one guy?]

The Bishop’s seven social sins are:

  1. “Bioethical” violations, such as birth control
  2. “Morally dubious” experiments, such as stem cell research
  3. Drug abuse
  4. Polluting the environment
  5. Contributing to the widening divide between rich and poor
  6. Excessive wealth
  7. Creating poverty

Geez. Hopefully I’m not the only one who thinks this is a crappy list of social sins. Birth Control? That should be a social virtue, given that there are already way too many people on the planet, ravaging its resources. Stem cell research? Come on. That’s ideology, not sin. Drug Abuse? Well, I guess, but as has been pointed out elsewhere on Smile Politely, using oil probably generates more violence.

The list ends well, with pollution and three sins that are different phrases for “economic justice.” While I do think that using Styrofoam should be a sin, and that economic disparity is against God’s will, I can’t shake the feeling that these “sins” were scribbled down on a napkin at a bar right before the guy met with the reporter.

Luckily, during my usual copious internet research for my columns (which consisted of at least two Google searches this time), I came across a non-lame list of social sins. Unsurprisingly, it was Mahatma Gandhi himself who came up with them, and also unsurprisingly, they too came in a batch of seven. They are:

  1. Politics without Principle
  2. Wealth Without Work
  3. Pleasure Without Conscience
  4. Knowledge without Character
  5. Commerce without Morality
  6. Science without Humanity
  7. Worship without Sacrifice

There’s even an eighth: Rights Without Responsibilities, added by Arun Gandhi.

Now that’s a good list of social sins. Leave it to those community-focused, mystical Hindus to outdo us Christians when it comes to identifying social sins (but don’t ask them about that whole caste system thing, which they are a little touchy about). While it appears they are better at identifying social sins, it would be nice if we could all take the next step and decide to stop engaging in them.

So, come on C-Uers. The next time you see someone having pleasure without conscience or commerce without morality within the city limits, challenge them on it. If you do, we’ll all be sipping umbrella drinks in our heavenly Club Med well before The Rapture or the Age of Kali Yuga hits.

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