New Year Resolutions and the Seven Deadly Sins, by Elizabeth Kay

With New Year resolutions a distant memory for some, and a matter of pride for others, it’s worth thinking how they can form the basis of a story. All crimes can begin with one of these, but they may not be as bad as they appear. The Seven Deadly Sins do not appear in the Bible, and were first enumerated by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century and elaborated in the 13th century by St Thomas Aquinas. As various religions have been used as a state form of control from time immemorial, instructing people to refrain from enjoyment is a good way of harnessing their energy into behaviour which enables the state to run smoothly – or the powers that be to remain in power.

The worst sin of all, which may be a bit of a surprise. In this context, pride is defined as irrationally believing that one is better, superior, or more important than others, and, in addition, failing to acknowledge or belittling the accomplishments of others. It’s an excessive admiration of yourself, because it might look as though you’re competing with the divine. Boasting is right out if you don’t want to be thought proud. Run yourself down, folks, and demonstrate your humility. Women are especially good at this, which has landed them in a lot of trouble over the years. Get in the habit of running yourself down and you will apologise for everything you do, even if it’s really good. If you’re never proud of what you do you will never have a yardstick by which you measure what you have, in fact, achieved; consequently, you will lose the ability to see your own work objectively, and fail to have a strategy to improve it even further. Not an easy one as a plotline.

Envy is the only one that can be directly related to the Ten Commandments. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, nor his wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s." Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have.” Bertrand Russell said that envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness.  Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement of economies and must be endured because it's what fuels progress.

The overindulgence and overconsumption of anything, but especially food. Medieval church leaders took a slightly expanded view of gluttony, arguing that it could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods. Thomas Aquinas prepared a list of five ways to commit gluttony, comprising:
Eating too expensively
Eating too daintily
Eating too much
Eating too soon
Eating too eagerly

Of these, Eating too eagerly is often considered the most serious, since it is extreme attachment to the pleasure of mere eating, instead of spiritual pleasures. These days, many people are the victims of advertising, which quite cold-bloodedly sets out to encourage over-eating to increase profit margins. Sensible eating requires far more self-discipline than in the past, when food was not so abundant. The addition of corn syrup to so many foods is physically addictive, and keeps you coming back for more even when you should feel full. Macdonalds is a classic. Do you want to go large?

Greed is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of desire, and is a good one for writers. However, greed (as seen by the Church) is applied to an artificial, rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things." In Dante's Purgatory, the penitents are bound and laid face down on the ground for having concentrated excessively on earthly thoughts. Hoarding of materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by means of violence, trickery, or manipiulation of authorit are all actions that may be inspired by greed. As defined outside Christian writings, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs; putting yourself first. However, greed’s opposite is putting yourself last, which can damage other people as well if they rely on you.

Lust, or lechery, is intense longing, usually thought of as sexual desire, which can lead to fornication to rape, bestiality, adultery, and so on. Lust is generally thought to be the least serious capital sin  as sins of the flesh are less grievous than spiritual sins. Is rape, therefore, less serious than missing confession? Let’s hear what St Paul had to say about sex.
I Corinthians V 32 He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 
Note that the husband doesn’t seem to be required to be holy in both body and spirit, although the wife is. And after all, without sexual desire we’d die out as a species.

Another good one for the writer. Uncontrolled feelings of anger, rage, hatred and a wish to seek vengeance. It seems to have a more Islamic or Hindu feel to it than the other sins, and be associated with honour killings and ancient blood feuds that lasted for centuries. It may persist long after the person who started the ball rolling is dead. A feeling of wrath can manifest itself in different ways, including simple impatience, misanthropy, revenge, and self-destructive behaviour. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, anger becomes the sin of wrath when it is directed against an innocent person, and that includes the self, or when it is unduly strong or long-lasting, or when it desires excessive punishment. "If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbour, it is a mortal sin." A mortal sin is defined as a grave action that is committed in full knowledge of its gravity and with the full consent of the sinner's will. However, wrath is fine for both God and Allah.

Collossians 3:6 Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. 
The Quran: But such as open their breast to unbelief – on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful penalty.

On the other hand, if people don’t get angry at injustices, what is ever going to change? It acts as a catalyst to make us actually do something.

The scope of sloth is surprisingly wide. To begin with it referred to an affliction attending religious persons, especially monks, when they became indifferent to their duties and obligations to God. Mentally, it consists of a lack of any feeling about self or other, a mind-state that gives rise to boredom, rancour, apathy, and a passive inert or sluggish attitude. Physically, it’s associated with lack of motion and an indifference to work; it finds expression in laziness, idleness, and indolence. In other words, depression, which was originally the eighth deadly sin but was dropped and merely reappeared in another guise.

As for me, my resolution is to always have one blog post in hand so that I don’t end up panicking at the last moment!


Eden Baylee said…
One of my fave films is SEVEN, about this very topic, albeit a fictionalized crime/suspense. It does make for good story telling.
Griselda Heppel said…
I love this! An unusual look at the 7 Deadly Sins with much to think about.

Re Lust - traditionally this has been about giving into desire by both sexes and though lust is obviously involved in rape, the violence of that act categorises it as a far deadlier sin. So Dante would have consigned a rapist to the Seventh circle of Hell, where all those who commit acts of violence are punished. The Lustful are in the First Circle and receive the mildest treatment of all (though still no picnic) and include famous lovers like Paris and Helen, Antony and Cleopatra and Piero and Francesca.

And your chocolate eclair has just made me very hungry. Oh the weakness of the flesh...

Popular posts

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

Navigating by the Stars

The Splendid Rage of Harlan Ellison - Umberto Tosi

No, The Times Journalists at the Hay Literary Festival, Burglarising is Not What It's All About, says Griselda Heppel

Little Detective on the Prairie