Modernising The ‘Seven Deadly Sins’
The so-called Seven Deadly Sins are seven acts (or the associated emotions) that are said to bring about death. I hope to show here that, for all its medieval origins, the list still applies today, just with some refinement. The priesthood has also changed, from religion to monied interests (so not much really). I want to go through each of the ‘sins’ and touch briefly on how they are used to keep the lower orders in place. The modern version may not have the religious connotations the original did, but the purpose is very much the same: maintaining the status quo in money and power. So little has changed in the last thousand years.
The First Pair: Pride and Avarice
First, pride. This is usually understood as a heightened sense of self-importance, forgetting one’s limitations, or something similar. The Greek hubris is the basis for the term. It usually means disrespecting the gods and forgetting one’s place in the universe. Now apply this to people in medieval times and beyond. Pride in this sense means forgetting your place in the hierarchy of the universe. Getting ideas above your station. Defining the desire to be more than you are, to progress in life beyond your current station as a ‘sin’ is an excellent way to keep people in their place where they belong. Pick your age and the meaning is the same. I pass over in silence the sheer irony of the idea that it is the rich and powerful telling the lower orders about pride, greed, etc.
Turning now to avarice or greed, this is usually defined as wanting more than your fair share, often based on taking from someone else. Once again, we see the desire to protect the status quo and the fortunes of the wealthy. You want a share of the wealth of society? Greedy peasant. Your lord made many sacrifices for you in gaining his vast wealth so you could work his land. Know your place. Defining as a ‘sin’ the desire to improve your material conditions is nothing but a scam so people will accept low pay, poor conditions and the removal of the social contract. Religion is, as Marx said, the opiate of the masses. Again, this concept translates quite nicely into our ‘modern age’. Once again I pass over in silence the lack of self-awareness in the rich accusing others of greed.
The Second Pair: Lust and Anger
Third is lust or sexual desire. There is a joke among non-believers that religion’s prohibition on sex before marriage turns the marriage license into a sex license. It is an exaggeration, of course, but it conveys the point that by controlling sex (or at least restricting access to it except with your permission) you control the population. This is, once again, about keeping people in their place. Now, am I suggesting that, to borrow from an old mentor of mine, if you see a pretty girl you ‘monster her’ on the spot? Of course not.
But I do object to the idea that religion thinks it has the right to control people’s most basic drive based on the authority they gave themselves. Once again, these ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ can be boiled down to mechanisms of control. The translation of this to the modern age is less pronounced, I must admit, though you do still see it among the religious.
Fourth is anger. This is the desire to seek vengeance for wrongs done, real or perceived. Vengeance tends to come from pride (forgetting your place) and greed (wanting some of the material comforts the lord has). Think of pride and avarice as motivating anger. So not only are you not allowed to act on the perceived injustices, to even be aware of them is a ‘deadly sin’. This just adds fuel to the fire that the ‘seven deadly sins’ are nothing but mechanisms for controlling people. Keep both the action and the motivation behind it as taboos. Shameless.
The Third Pair: Gluttony and Envy
Fifth is gluttony, a narrowing of greed to apply to finite resources. Now in fairness, in a society with finite resources (and indeed scarcity) as medieval times were, this one has some validity. Someone eating more than their share could be the difference between starvation and survival, so there is something there. This is the only one of the seven so far that has any purpose beyond keeping peasants in line. This one is less prevalent these days, particularly in the west, but wanting more than your share being a sin generates explosive irony when looking at the monied interests in our society.
Next is envy, defined here as a form of jealousy: I want what he/she has. Think of this as an extension or variant of greed. Once again, we see the desire to keep people where they are. Oh you are upset at the fact that the lords control the land and you are a mere peasant renting from them (again, pick which age you think I am talking about). Well that is just envy.
You may recall a modern version of this ‘deadly sin’ when the LNP coined the clunker ‘the politics of envy’. This was essentially designed to delegitimise any calls for reform, including taxing the rich and corporations, the true owners of the ‘modern’ world. You’re just jealous is effectively what they said. Do not protest your lot in life: it is divinely mandated. It is pure coincidence that those making such arguments happen to be doing quite well, I am sure.
Last But Not Least: Sloth
Finally, we come to sloth. We usually understand this as laziness: not earning your keep. This one, too, has something going for it in medieval times. Life was on a knife edge, and someone not doing their share of the work could have disastrous consequences. In medieval times being the operative phrase. Lest you think this concept has not come into modern times, look at capital and its attitude to workers. The utter obsession with, and sacrifice of everything to, profit has led to dramatic changes in attitudes to hard-won worker benefits. They may not say this in so many words, but there is an undertone here. You dare to not work yourself to the bone for your betters? You demand time off? Weekends? Paid sick leave? Parental leave? Do you lazy serfs do any work? Back to the grindstone, cog.
Not Such a Medieval List: Seven ‘Deadly Sins’ in The ‘Modern World’
I referenced some examples above, but it is clear that, despite the church losing its power, the concept of the Seven ‘Deadly Sins’ is by no means dead. These actions, and the emotions behind them, are still taboos enforced by the modern priesthood of corporations, Tories and the media. Not all of the originals are still used: some refinement was necessary. But the concept of keeping the peasants in line remains on glaring display. We cannot tax super profits, reform negative gearing, or challenge the status quo in any way without being accused of one of the Seven. So little has changed in the last thousand years.
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Oh Tim, you have let the cat out of the bag!!
Pride & Avarice: are definitely to keep the ”Lower Orders” in their place slaving for minimum expenditure to keep the rich & notorious in their privileged positions, especially the priests.
Lust & Anger: In mediaeval times these were restricted for the benefit of the lords of the manor. In modern times, especially post 1960s release of the Birth Control Pill, can you imagine an allegedly celibate priest setting the rules for a game that they do NOT play (allegedly!!). But I have seen sex manuals written by priests (SJs) rabbiting on about sex for pro-creation. (So maybe that is why so many priests are being had up for kiddie fiddling).
Gluttony & Envy: Overlooking the starvation in hard times model for the moment, somehow for me this described “parasitic capitalism” as practiced today in advanced Western countries. American ”greed is good” philosophy, European resource stripping the world across the atlas ”to keep the advanced economies ” in the manner to which they wish to remain accustomed.
Sloth: As practiced by the ”new” management class that does little except raising their salary packages without consideration of their previous often underachieving financial performance.
Yep!! Little has changed in the past 1,000 years; the rich want to stay on top in Western parasitic capitalism, and will use every means available to stay that way.
Found this very interesting. I’m about to launch a podcast “nosexplease (I’m religious)”. Would love to talk to you about this article. Website added, out of date and being rebuilt for the podcast.
Sloth and Lust are still heavily policed when the evidence suggests we need to let go. In the modern world, there is no evidence it hurts society, contrary to what the religious nuts say.
Envy. This is one we need to deal with. Our politicians have taken it to the N th degree. Dole bludgers anyone?
Gluttony and avarice are ones we need to address. Certainly have dropped the ball on these.
Pride , sure we can make a case for education.
Anger. Yes a wasted energy but fundamental to our survival.
Anger is not always wasted energy. As long as you can control and direct it, it is very useful. It can give you the strength to fight against injustice.
I’m probably not the only one here whose anger has helped keep them alive.
All sins could be whittled down to one – living a life in unawareness.
The number of people I’ve met living aware is so few.
This is why the world is a circus.
Truths are truths, in whatever cloth they are presented. The initial expression of the seven deadly sins was not as a means of social control, rather a method of enlightening or elucidating for the benefit of all. How they’ve subsequently been co-opted by religious entities for other purposes is another story. Christianity today, with few exceptions – Greek & Russian Orthodoxy, for example – is a failed enterprise, degraded beyond recognition, and willing to grasp whatever renmants of teaching it can utilize for its self-serving survival, including the practices of condemnation, judgementalism, instilling of fear, moral approbation, false notions and gross misrepresentations of the seminal esoteric teachings which had much to offer. A dagwood dog against a medieval banquet.
In Buddhism, which ought not be seen as a religious path but more a psychological road-map of mans’ consciousness, the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion are considered to be unskillful and the root cause of all unnecessary human suffering. They are, if examined, correlates of the seven deadlies.
I agree with @Canguro. (*”roadmap of human consciousness”)
Imagine a society where we have learned how to live sustainably, to care and share, we’ve learned how to manage democratically, how to keep individual power in check. We will need clear ethical guidelines as an integral part of our ‘culture’ ie ‘this is how we behave’.
The seven deadly sins of Christianity represent a catch-all variety of common human vices to which everybody is inevitably going to submit every so often. Every wannabe Christian will know when they are guilty of one and consequently will be obliged to confess that sin to a priest in order to receive absolution. Confession is one of the seven sacraments and can only be heard and absolved by an ordained priest. Thus, the Christian Church and its maintenance became essential to Christian societies as it was the only source of ordained priests who could relieve superstitious believers of their mental anguish of suffering eternal damnation for having natural human emotions.
Sloth by the way is really the sin of despair, not laziness. Sloth is giving up hope, which in Christianity is seen as a denial of faith in divine purpose.
A good perspective on how to protect organisational power: create a monopoly.