Friday, 12 September 2014

The Seven Deadly Sins. Part 2

Part 2
Avarice, cupidity or covetousness,like lust and gluttony, is a sin of excess. However, this kind of greed is applied to an excessive and rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth. Witness our national credit card debt and the pursuits of retail therapy, indulgent consumerism and commodity fetishes that fill our leisure times.
Avarice wants to get its "fair share"- and more.
Avarice is alive and doing very well in NZ. The wealth split is much worse here than most people realise.
The richest 20% of us owns 70% of NZ wealth. Only 10% of people own over half of this wealth. A third of that belongs to the wealthiest 1%. 
The rich are really greedy.

A political solution would be of course a re-distribution of the world’s wealth fairly. Sadly, I suspect avarice will continue to thrive in the current cultural climate where Avarice is a way of life, totally entrenched in all our systems of thought and practice.


Like greed and lust, Envy  is characterized by an insatiable desire. Envy is similar to jealousy - they both feel discontent towards someone. It might be the other’s status, abilities or character traits; whatever another person has, Envy wants it or more of it. The difference between being jealous and envious is that envy covets the object of desire; it eats its heart out.
Envy resents the good others receive or even might receive. Misplaced envy greets any attempts in rectifying social injustice (such as raising welfare benefits to solo parents for example) with screams of dissent. (undeserving lazy solo mothers don’t ‘work!”).
Dante defined envy as "a desire to deprive other men of theirs". In his book Purgatory, the punishment for the envious is to have their eyes sewn shut with wire because they have gained sinful pleasure from seeing others brought low.

Aquinas described envy as "sorrow for another's good.” The modern media urges its consumers onto ever greater heights of envy or schadenfreude (which means gratification or triumph in seeing another fail or suffer misfortune.) Gloating has a similar meaning, but envy implies malice within the delight.
Love and its sisters Compassion and Empathy might help ease the pangs of envy.

Wrath  - rage – manifests as uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Self-destructiveness, violence, and hate drive wrath and can provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath may persist long after the person who did another a grievous wrong is dead. Revenge and honour killings are horrible examples.
Dante described vengeance as "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite". The endless, deadly, dreary conflicts in the Middle East and other places throughout the world are horrifying and tragic examples of Wrath at its very worst.

Anger is often our first reaction to the problems of others, accompanied by impatience with their faults.
Interestingly, Wrath is the only sin not necessarily associated with selfishness or self-interest. Someone can of course be wrathful for selfish reasons such as jealousy (that is closely related to Envy.)
But anger can in fact be healthily expressed and its expression is often necessary for healing and well –being. Outrage seems to me a rage accompanied with feelings of helplessness that is often part of deep grief.
In its original form, the sin of wrath also encompassed anger pointed internally as well as externally. Thus suicide was deemed as the ultimate expression of hatred directed inwardly - a final rejection of God's gifts.
Self-destructive behaviours such as drug abuse or suicide are tragic manifestations of rage turned inward. They cause great grief and even rage when they affect others – as they always do.
 I don’t think suicide is a sin and I deplore the older Christian viewpoint which pointed to a punishing god with no compassion for the misery of despair. Despair is a ghastly endpoint, but going there is often a journey the most sensitive and intelligent people make.
Kindness, communication and long-term patience do help wrath turn the other cheek. Counting to ten and walking away are conventional wisdoms that work.
Crimes of Passion are not well-served by an adversarial justice system. Restorative Justice with an inquisitorial system and Courts of Truth and Reconciliation with processes committed to restitution and negotiation, seem more sensible ways of addressing crimes of rage. But how we solve the problems that millennia of feuding, land theft and murder of innocents, (eg in the Middle East) is beyond me. All I know is that the means never justify the end. War can only ever be resolved through peace. Escalation of violence is the worst manifestation of Wrath.

Lust or lechery a sin of excess, characterised by intense desire, whether for money, food, fame, power or sex. Lack of self-control is evident and in Dante’s Inferno the unforgiven souls racked with lust are driven by restless hurricane-like winds.
The movie Wolf of Wall Street is a modern riff on the endless versions of Lust available to us.
 Lust’s drive for pleasure is out of proportion to its worth. The pursuit of happiness – as entitlement - seems to be a given in the modern West (in fact written into the American Constitution). But happiness under Capitalism has been consistently defined by a lust for material pleasures.

 “….Because I’m worth it” is the raison d’etre driving so much of our consumption and debt. Never mind if it’s at the expense- for example- of the 3rd World peoples (child slave labour that make our clothes and shoes), or dairy products that wreck environmental and water degradation.  Pornography, sex trafficking, manufacturing of such products as S.U.V.s and drugs) - all thrive on a small elite’s lust for power and the passive co-operation of the masses who consume  the ‘happiness’ commodities dished up to them.
In our daily lives the constant craving for the next flavour in vogue, the latest trendy style, the fashioning of self on the hottest – or coolest – celebrity of the moment. Craving and craven are words that seem to express the obsessive celebrity culture we witness daily in our media. The restless yearning after external stimuli to gorge that gaping internal void is horrifying to be part of.

Self control and self-respect are virtues to foster when grappling with Lust.

Gluttony - in Latin it means to gulp down or swallow. Like Lust and Avarice it’s all about excess; over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything and everything to the point of waste. Gluttony is the selfishness that places our own interests above the interests or well-being of others.
If we take a more narrow view of the concept, it will mean gluttony only in relation to food. For example an excessive desire for food that causes food to be withheld from the needy. 
Advertising and serial cooking shows on our TV screens encourage the obsessive anticipation of meals, or the constant eating of delicacies’ and costly foods. Supermarkets are adept at catering to our lusts. They import foods from faraway places for the domestic market at the expense of our carbon footprints. They sell strawberries from California in the middle of winter. They throw out waste food when the poor go hungry and their cynical displays of lollies at eye-shelf level encourage children to lust after unhealthy food that will make them sicker quicker.

The unlimited sale of takeaway fast foods and the huge - and huger - portions served are examples of societal inability to prevent runaway gluttony. Unregulated promotion and usage of sugar and carbohydrates are actively causing modern plagues of explosive obesity and diabetes.

Binge drinking is a form of gluttony (gulping down). Our young people are practically weaned on this way of socialising with their peers, with all the resulting self-disgust, chaos and alcoholism that follows.

Promoting the quality of Temperance might help us to begin to accept the natural limits of pleasures, not just with our food but in all over-consumption. Beginning to preserve a natural balance; not only in the pleasure we take in food but also in entertainment and even in the company of others.

Sloth is sometimes but not always defined as physical laziness. The apathy of spiritual laziness is emphasized in the Christian faith. Sloth is a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act. Indifference and passivity become active refusal to help others in times of need or to be responsible citizens. Sloth is also the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts.
When our mainstream Pakeha value system rejects and locks out Maori and Polynesian language and culture, this is the sloth of failure to support dispossessed peoples. If we don’t make active efforts to acknowledge and integrate, unemployment, prison and alienation result for many - who then suffer from the malaise and apathy of those who are not using their talents.

Thomas Aquinas included the idea of Acedia, describing this as an “uneasiness of the mind.” It is a Latin word that means the neglect to take care of something that one should do. Melancholy is the emotion that leads to acedia which manifests as apathy or listlessness, depression without joy. In its ultimate form acedia was despair that leads to suicide. Again the Christian viewpoint described the black dog of despair, as a wilful refusal to enjoy the goodness of God and the world God created. I think our modern idea of despair as an illness is a better one than this. Yet it’s not perfect either. Our modern medicalization of sorrow or melancholia can also lead to lethargy and ennui.

A counterbalance must be to find meaning and a sense of belonging in our lives. Going back to our roots and discovering a culture or a past that may have been stolen from us can re-vitalise us. Active healing therapies can restore a belief in the damaged self and encourage us to be part of a community. Opening ourselves to love that connects us to people round us can restore a feeling that we can make a difference. Creative expression supports us to find the necessary enthusiasm that will galvanise ourselves out of the deep sleep of the complacency that turns a blind eye.

The seven sins are really deadly. They are killing us and Mother Earth. The interesting thing about all the sins except for Wrath, is that they describe what we do in relational terms. Humans are social animals and don’t exist in isolation. We operate within communities and habitats. Our personal lust, pride, or sloth impacts on everyone else and on the natural world. The personal is political so it is imperative we build a new morality to counteract the big lies corporate capitalism has sold us. The only moves that will really checkmate the seven deadly sins are to instigate economic sustainability for our beautiful blue planet and ensure social welfare for the community of all the creatures that live on her.

No comments:

Post a Comment