Radical Right and the Seven Deadly Sins

Pope Gregory 1 (540?-604), generally advertised as “the Great” and also called a “saint,” is credited with warning mankind of the seven deadly sins which threaten man’s “fallen” condition.  In truth he simply built upon the musings of a fourth century monk, Evagrius Ponticus, who had pondered over a list of what he considered to be eight “evil thoughts.”  Undoubtedly the studious monk and Pope Gregory 1 gleaned their insight on sin from the Old Testament book of Proverbs 6:16-19, which stated that the Lord was not pleased with”…a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devised wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among his brothers.  [Loosely interpreted from King James translation.]  The biblical list of negative indulgences is depressing: it is undeniable proof that career politicians have alway been around.

In Gregory’s revision of Evagrius Ponticus’ notes, he kind-of-sort-of dropped “sorrow” from the monk’s list of evil thoughts as being a condition of sinfulness.  (More on this a little later.)  The “sins” that Gregory mined into propagandist gold were:  1) lust, 2) gluttony, 3) greed, 4) sloth, 5) wrath, 6) envy, and 7) pride.  There is bittersweet irony encapsulated in this list, for throughout all the centuries of church history the church itself has wallowed in all of them (and still does).  It is interesting to compare the religious and political extremists’ conduct in the US today against this honored yardstick of sinful behavior.

Gregory 1 listed the first sin as being luxuria, Latin, which means “extravagance,” so he wasn’t really referring to excessive sexual thoughts or desires as the word “lust” is commonly used today.  “Lust” is an Old English interpretation of the Latin meaning. But either connotation can be easily applied to the extravagances of the religious and political extremists in the US today.  [Roman Catholic Catechism revised Gregory’s order of sins as: 1) pride, 2) avarice, 3) envy, 4) wrath, 5) lust, 6) gluttony, and 7) sloth.]

Second on Gregory’s list of sins was gula, from the Latin gluttier, which actually refers to the gulping down of food or drink.  This is the common indulgence associated with over-consumption or over-indulgence, i.e. gluttony, the consequence of which is the habit of waste.  Thomas Aquinas (1226?-1274), expanded upon this sinful aspect (one might even say he over-indulged himself in this) by listing six ways of committing gluttony.  By whichever standard we consider, it is easily applied to the typical conduct of the extreme right in religion and politics in the US today.

Third on Gregory’s list was avaritia, Latin, from avarus, meaning “greed.”  Like gluttony, the indulgence in greed/avarice is a sin of excess.  As commonly interpreted by the church, this is applied largely to the acquisition of worldly wealth.  The sin lies in the fact that temporal things are treasured more than the divine, and therefore is the turning away from god.  Now this is a particularly easy one to associate with the radicals, especially the political right.

Acedia, Latin, the fourth sin on Gregory’s list of sins (as Thomas Aquinas interpreted it), was not a reference to what is understood as sloth today.  Gregory had dropped “sorrow” from Evagrius Ponticus’ list of “evil thoughts,” but the inclusion of acedia by Aquinas may be better understood as the feelings of depression, apathy, melancholy, dejection, etc.  Such feelings, when allowed to dominate, were judged to induce spiritual indifference, which would result in failure to do “god’s work.”  Such an immobilizing state of emotion is not the same as laziness or an unwillingness to move around more than is required as “sloth” is used today.  So the old meaning of an unwillingness to love and care for the diverse works of god is what this listing as acedia meant originally.  And in that understanding it certainly applies to the religious and political radicals of today.

Number five on Gregory’s legendary list of sins was ira, meaning wrath, anger, rage, or ire.  Such emotional concentration has the tendency to blind one to aspects of truth, either in regard to others and circumstances, or with self and circumstances.  This can lead to acts of vengeance—such as obstinacy, slander, defamation, assault, physical abuse, murder, and even genocide.  Sort of makes one think of the common far-right characteristics.  Wrath—violent anger—is an emotion that is not always due to selfish reasons or self-interest, however, and such wrath for any reason commonly flames out explosively harming everything around it and within itself.  It is this self-destructive feature of internal harm which was deemed to be a major transgression, for it amounts to a rejection of god’s gift of life—the same reasoning that the Catholic Church deems suicide to be the ultimate transgression.

Gregory’s sixth named sin was invidia, Latin, from invidere meaning to look at with malice.  In other words, envy.  Envy is often entangled with greed, but its distinction is the emotional state of resentment toward another person who has something or has achieved something that makes the observant party feel slighted by dame fortune or god.  The emotion called envy is the wish to deprive others of their good fortune.  Ask the people of the states of Wisconsin and Michigan how this applies to the radical Republican/Tea Party takeover of their state governments.

Last on Gregory’s list of sins was superbia, Latin, translated as pride.  Roman Catholic Catechism placed pride at the number one spot, and there is logic to this.  Pride, hubris, vanity, conceit, narcissism—whatever it is called, is the blindly emotional indulgence of self-glory.  It has been characterized in the United States Congress by Republican and Tea Baggers constantly saying “no” to any compromise.  It is this rabid egomania out of which all other sins arise.  With love focused upon themselves (self-interest) the result is the failure to acknowledge the god-given goodness which is active within the diverse gifts of others.  This type of behavior was seen by Gregory and Aquinus as the person holding himself out of his proper position toward the Creator, hence sinful.

Whether the understanding of serious transgressions come from the book of Proverbs or Pope Gregory’s list of deadly sins, it is obvious that the extreme evangelical faction that in 1996 took over the Republican Party in the United States does not truly practice the advice upon which they claim to place their “faith.”

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