The perplexity of sin

The perplexity of sin

The origin and history of sloth stigma and related ideologies

We've all heard of the big, bad Seven Deadly Sins, but where did they originate? Lydia Adams has a glance at their history, religious parallels, and possible modern-day alternatives.

As I sat there at my dimly-lit desk, thinking of all the possible things I could have done in my life to deserve such an unstable Internet connection, it suddenly hit me – I loved sloths too much. Slothfulness is meant to be one of the big, bad Seven Deadly Sins, yet I held a torch for their physical embodiment. I had fallen into the trap that is human wickedness. Damn. I closed a few unnecessary browser tabs and tried turning my Internet off then on again. It worked. Salvation was mine! I self-high-fived and continued my Parks and Recreation marathon, but in the back of my mind I began to think, how can sloth be a sin when sloths are so gosh darn adorable? Who created this list of man’s “worst” vices and what was their purpose in making such a list? Much research ensued.

Almost every person in the western world has heard of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” During a survey of people who would talk to me while walking through the link, it was found that everyone had heard of the big bad sins, but only eight out of 18 people could name them all. That’s approximately 40 per cent of our total student body. I then walked around the University’s campus and asked 20 other students what they thought of sloths. I’ll tell you right now that not one of them had a nasty thing to say. “Sloths are adorable,” said one lady, after listening to my haiku that goes;

How can sloths be bad?
They light up my life and yours,
Sloths are happiness.

Although many people struggle to name all seven of the deadly sins, the general idea is well understood; lust, gluttony, greed, envy, pride, wrath, and sloth, are humanity’s most atrocious immoralities. Apparently.

Hundreds of years ago, it was decided that man’s evil desires should be highlighted, and possible avoidance strategies should be taught to church-going crowds for the rest of time. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not contain a list of seven sins that are worse than all the others. The modern list of wickedness was in fact adapted from the works of fourth-Century monk Evagrius Ponticus who wrote of eight evil thoughts: Γαστριμαργία (gluttony); Πορνεία (fornication); Φιλαργυρία (greed); Ὑπερηφανία (hubris); Λύπη (envy); Ὀργή (wrath); Κενοδοξία (boasting); and Ἀκηδία (apathy). In AD 590, Pope Gregory I revised Evagrius’ list into what is now commonly known as the Seven Deadly Sins.

The Catholic Church also created a list of Seven Heavenly Virtues, to counter the Seven Deadly Sins. These virtues were identified as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. Church-going audiences were taught that practicing these virtues would protect them against the temptation and allure of the Seven Deadly Sins. Which might sound like one of those teachings old-time Protestants got angry about. You know, “If you do this, salvation is yours!” But I for one ain’t gonna get too mad at encouraging patience and kindness in opposition to wrath and envy.

In 2008, the Vatican introduced seven “new” sins that were supposedly running far more rampant than the previous bunch. These “new” sins were: environmental pollution; genetic manipulation; financial gluttony; inflicting poverty; drug trafficking/consumption; human experiments; and social injustice. Much more modernised, I suppose, and I’m glad to see that sloths have been removed from the equation. Being named after one of man’s wicked vices wasn’t exactly the greatest of starts for our fantastic furry friends. Though to our daily, student lives, the new sins don’t seem to have much relevance – other than, maybe, shining a light on our vicious littering and inadequate recycling habits. Maybe we as students can point the finger at our government for inflicting poverty on us (oh, the sweet taste of self-righteousness) but mostly it seems like the Vatican has science and wealth in its sights. Way to ruin all the fun, you guys! These “new” versions of the Seven Deadly Sins really didn’t take, though. I can only assume the Vatican at that time had a bad publicist.

You know what I think is a deadly sin? Airport delays; cancelling and transferring between flights, spending eight hours in transit when it should’ve only taken four. And rudeness to service staff. To those assholes at restaurants that sit there treating the wait staff like crap because in your minds you’re Joffrey fkkn Baratheon and the staff are lowly peasants who live only to cater to your every whim: you suck.

Another deadly sin? Cat-calling. Just stop it. Plastic bags, you too. Hawaii has recently outlawed the commercial use of plastic bags. You go, Hawaii! Crocs. Bad haircuts. Treating Facebook like a diary, when you could purchase a perfectly good notebook that won’t laugh or chat back when you’ve had the worst day ever getting the wrong Starbucks order and misplacing your Karen Walker sunglasses. Hash-tagging and saying, “YOLO,” or “LOL,” in real life. Not cool.

When Evagrius the monk sat down to note the evil thoughts and concerns he felt humanity was responsible for, he wrote eight of them. Pope Gregory I took Evagrius’ ideas and narrowed the list to seven. Seven seems a strange number to encompass all of the sinful temptations our world presents. A bit low, perhaps? There are so many terrible things people do that could be considered “deadly sins,” but we know that. You’d have to be living under a dome of steel-enforced rock to not notice how nasty humans can often be.

Even the finest of optimists among us know that people are inherently not super nice, so then what? Do we announce to the masses that there are seven major things that they’re all doing wrong and hope that fixing just a few will make the world a better place? Nonsense. When someone leaves a napkin they’ve dropped on the ground instead of moving it to a trashcan, they know they’re littering; knowing that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still going to leave it there. Encouraging the world’s human population to adhere to the Seven Heavenly Virtues wouldn’t go down very well, either. Chastity? The most effective form of birth control, sure, but no matter how often churches and religious fanatics talk up abstinence it will never be a thing. Stop trying to make celibacy happen, it’s not going to happen! Better to educate on all forms of birth control than keep people in the dark.

The idea of listing our vices and temptations is not an idea that solely belongs to Catholicism. In fact, many religions all over the globe have had similar ideas. In Hindu theology, Arishadvarga are the six passions of human mind and desire: kama (lust); krodha (anger); lobh (greed); moha (delusional attachment); mada (pride); and matsarya (envy). Sikhism hold the same principles, except they are known as the Five Evils and do not include matsarya (envy). It is believed within both the Arishadvarga and the Five Evils that lust and anger are the two vices that lead to most types of difficult experiences in each of our lives. In Buddhism, kleshas are mental states that supposedly cloud the mind and manifest themselves into unpleasant behaviour. Kleshas include a multitude of emotions, such as fear, depression, anxiety, jealousy and anger. In modern Buddhist traditions, there are three kleshas that have been identified as the root of all other “mind poisons,” and they are ignorance, attachment, and aversion. These are frequently referred to as the Three Poisons.

As my research into the origin and history of the Seven Deadly Sins continued, I found myself beginning to wonder, what would the modern versions of the classic Seven be? Aside from the Vatican’s perspective, there are other human behaviours that could easily be seen as far more destructive and widespread than the likes of human experimentation. For example:

Buddhism has it right in stating that ignorance is a source of hate, anger, fear and, often, downright rudeness. A single person’s opinion is not the only existing opinion. Despite what you may have heard throughout your life about a personal opinion not being right or wrong – that it’s merely a perspective – that is total and utter poppycock. Opinions can absolutely be wrong. Being ignorant is to be in a state of unawareness and to act with a lack of knowledge. Religious enthusiasts and all those who encourage the persecution of people with different lifestyle choices to their own are unquestionably ignorant. How dare someone prefer to live a life that is separate to yours? The cheek of it all! Ignorance often leads to unsavoury behaviour, which is not pleasant for anyone involved. Get educated, be open-minded, be happy!

Sexism, racism, homophobia … the list goes on when it comes to people pushing their beliefs onto everyone else. Stop it. History has proven that you’re the bad guy, so get on the good guy bandwagon and try to not be such a dick sometimes. One act of oppression that isn’t talked about all too often is the harassment of mothers who breastfeed in public spaces. Far too many times have I overheard the tittering and tut-tutting of disapproving individuals in the park or at a café. Are you serious? Babies need to be fed! You were, and how would you feel if your mother had been spoken about in such a way? Shame on you, silly person. “Change your oppressive ways, you’ll have friends for days,” said everyone ever.

It’s all well and fair to not want to start a fight, or not get involved when something happens that you don’t agree with. Sometimes that just isn’t good enough. You know how every now and then when you and the boys are hitting the clubs on a Saturday night, and one of your bros might start groping a very clearly intoxicated girl? You should stop him. Pull him aside and say, “Bro, she’s too drunk.” It’s that easy, but people have just stopped caring. Where are all the good old-fashioned protests for which universities used to be renowned? When did we, as students, stop caring about the bigger picture? Last year only around 25 per cent of our student body voted in the OUSA presidential election, and that was considered unusually high. Come on! No one is that apathetic that they can’t be bothered signing a quick petition or spending five minutes speaking with a friend who has been feeling down. Caring more about life and doing something that might make a real-life difference in the real world is in no way a
bad thing.

We’ve all heard the saying, “the world doesn’t revolve around you,” and for the most part, people get it. Sometimes, though, there are those others who just … don’t. For example, packing up your things before a lecturer or demonstrator has finished is so disrespectful. You may have coffee plans with Ruby in 10 minutes but gosh darn it you will sit there and be quiet. Not only is the zipping-up of your backpack loud and disruptive but aren’t you there to learn from the person speaking? Their knowledge is power! Learn from them, be successful; be cool, stay
in school.

Almost every single person on this planet has at least a slight understanding of bullying. Many of us have experienced this tragedy of human mentality. Bullying is awful, dreadful behaviour. Purposely making another person feel sad or physically unsafe is a terrible thing to do! Bullies confuse me, because it seems like a genuinely alien state of mind to want another human being or animal to feel inferior and lesser than they really are. Does this need to be further elaborated? Simply put, can u fkkn not? Thnx.

Lying for selfish purposes:
Humans really hit the jackpot on selfishness when they figured out that they didn’t have to be honest all the time. If a friend needs help relocating to a new flat and you’re suddenly cough cough “sick,” you are a slightly selfish friend. Lying to make people feel better isn’t always the best option either. Telling your friend that “everything will be fine,” when you have no idea of knowing whether or not that’s true is alright most of the time, but if your friend has had the week from hell occasionally they just need someone to sit there and say, “Hey, that sucks, I’m sorry you’re having a crappy week.” I was on holiday with one of my closest friends once, when he suddenly started having a sniffly-sneezy hayfever fit. I didn’t have any antihistamines with me, but I did have a bunch of vitamin E pills. I gave him one of those and told him it was an antihistamine. He stopped sneezing after a short period of time. High-five, placebo effect! Conversely, gossiping and spreading rumours that make you seem like a better person than someone else really is not very nice. You can make perfectly fantastic friends without lying to them.

So there we have six new sins. Not seven, because although there are many more bad habits of human nature that could be discussed, if I continued I may never stop. To quote one of history’s great philosophers, Jay-Z, “I got 99 problems, but a lack of cynicism ain’t one.” Those may not be his exact words but they’re close enough.

The moral of this story on immorality is that the planet is fine, but the people are a bit shit. Although, if you’re reading this, then congratulations on being alive! If that isn’t something worth smiling about, then I don’t know what is.
This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2014.
Posted 4:32pm Sunday 18th May 2014 by Lydia Adams.