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The Seven Deadly Sins Plus One More
The Joys of Being a Sin Eater
How does one eat the sins of another, and what could motivate anyone to wish to do so? In fact, during medieval times, it was believed, in some European countries, if someone hired as a sin eater gormandized to the utmost during the banquet following the funeral of an aristocrat, this swallowing and digesting would relieve the deceased of any consequences of earthly misdeeds, in the hereafter. During those times when only the wealthy had adequate food, this job proved a privilege. Even today, if such a vacancy were to arise, it would almost certainly draw an abundance of applicants.
The Significance of Numbers and the Choice of Seven
Some numbers, such as 3, 7 and 10, have significance throughout the Christian Bible and other mystical frameworks, such as numerology. (Even today, people tend to assume the statute of limitations is 7 years, when in fact it might vary in terms of a host of facts and circumstances) Thus, it is not surprising for 7 to have been chosen as the number of sins deemed so profound as to have been designated “deadly”. They are “deadly” in that anyone having committed one or more of them will, in religious terms, require the deepest penitence in order to obtain God’s forgiveness and a peaceful after-life.
According to the Christian lexicon, these sins are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Their order does not seem linked to their perceived degree of malevolence, or their resulting length of punishment in the hereafter. Instead, then as now, acronyms, a convenient combination of initials underlay this hierarchy: the Latin word “saligia” encompassing all of them: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira, and acedia. In this article, we will be adding an eighth deadly sin.
The Existence and Impact of Conscience
Before discussing each of these sins, it is worthwhile to consider whether the capacity for conscience is a part of the human condition.
A dog, having chewed up its owner’s newspaper or pair of bedroom slippers, hearing that owner’s key in the lock, is likely to cower. This is doubtless due to awareness, based on previous misdeeds, that his owner may be angry enough to punish him in some way. While doubtless regretting its action, the dog almost certainly does so in fear of his penalty, based upon memories, rather than any guilt as to having done something destructive and disappointing to someone who provides it with unending care, comfort and affection.
Renowned researcher and psychologist Jesse Bering maintains, on the basis of his own inner childhood strife, bolstered by a wide range of experiments that each human being is born with a conscience which transcends fear of punishment.
Guilt can haunt us when we have done something wrong in that it proves distressing or unjust to another, even when we know we will never be caught and forced to accept the consequences of our actions. Echoes of guilt can pierce and destroy our sense of escape from ourselves, or what religion denotes our souls; our reflections can become our most merciless judges.
The Deadly Sin of Pride
Awareness of our strengths, skills and abilities is essential to our emotional health. Without this bulwark, we could all too quickly succumb to despondency due to the slights, injustices and disappointments interwoven into our day-to-day lives. It is when this awareness turns to disdain towards those we regard as inferiors that the menace begins. Aside from the cruelty of treating such people with scorn, the prideful lose their perspective as to their place in the global framework.
Detriment of Arrogance
An overestimated sense of our knowledge can cause grave problems for others. This risk can engulf anyone who seeks assistance from a professional of any kind. Still, at the penultimate edge, is a surgeon who perceives himself as beyond the need for any input from colleagues. His deepest insecurity might lurk in his fear that a request for advice might jeopardize his hard-won reputation for infallibility. Still, it is the patient whose life becomes endangered or ended.
Self-Worth and Egomania
Psychotherapy, for the most part, is meant to enhance self-esteem. Indeed, many of those who consult therapists do so as a consequence of a sense of being inferior to those to whom they compare themselves. While this stumbling-block needs to be overcome, there must be boundaries.
One therapist often provides her/his clients with affirmations in the form of statements regarding a positive self-image, along with the belief in upcoming achievements and goals. Repeated often enough, these statements are believed to create new pathways within the brain structure. Still, when sensing this self-worth evolving towards egomania, this therapist suggests the client is ready to halt the exercise.
The Deadly Sin of Greed
Greed constitutes the desire to own more than one is ever likely to need, primarily for the joy of ownership, often in hopes of instilling frustration in others. The insatiability of this vice allows it to swallow those things owned or deserved by others. While generally associated with material gain, there are also those dubbed psychological vampires, in that they expect constant emotional uplifts from those around them, while refusing to give encouragement in return. Still, for our purposes here, we will stay with the dangers of craving financial eminence.
The Myth of King Midas
Greek mythology tells of a King Midas who was promised by the Greek god Dionysus that his deepest wish would be gratified. When Midas chose anything he touched would be transformed into gold, he failed to realize its ramifications.
Having ordered a banquet to be prepared to commemorate his good fortune, Midas soon found everything he attempted to eat or drink hardened into gold. Forced to see that this “wealth” would end in his death through starvation, he pleaded with Dionysus to revoke this imagined blessing. Instructed to bath in the river Pactolus this golden curse was removed.
Forfeiture of Love for Money
In some versions of this myth, Midas had a daughter Zoe. In the 1851 A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys by Nathaniel Hawthorne, he elaborated on this to encompass Midas’ kissing his daughter’s cheek, resulting in her solidifying into a golden statue.
The philosophy underlying this tale resonates throughout history. Some of those on the wealthy echelons are still subjugated by its power. There are parents, even today, who have ordered a son or daughter to marry a member of a wealthy family, or risk being disinherited.
It is far too idealistic to expect money will ever cease to be part of many of life’s equations.
The Deadly Sin of Lust
Lust consists of an intense, sometimes obsessive urge for a physical relationship with another person. This desire can be random, or become fixated upon one individual. It was probably included among the gravest transgressions in that religion discouraged any excess. In addition, if this desire led to seduction or rape, it would almost certainly bring about societal and legal conflicts. Historically, as with most perceived vices, lust was viewed as more acceptable in men than in women. To some degree, this view remains prevalent.
Women do differ from men in that they tend to seek a deeper degree of personal connection. This explains why far fewer women are willing to pay for intimate contact than are their male counterparts. Even after their self-proclaimed release from male dominance, many a woman has felt the need to feign reluctance /resistance, to a level where she deems it safe to allow herself to be persuaded.
Disillusionment in “Gone With The Wind”
Nearly throughout the thousand pages of Margaret Mitchell’s American Civil War novel, Scarlett O'Hara pursues the elusive Ashley Wilkes, despite his enduring union with his wife, Melanie. Hence, Scarlett guards her heart against tenderness from any other man, based on her conviction that she, rather than Melanie, has Ashley’s love. It is only upon seeing his overpowering anguish at his wife’s death that Scarlett is forced to see his complete devotion to Melanie. In a moment of painful enlightenment, she is forced to see that Ashley’s feelings for her have been entirely carnal.
The Deadly Sin of Envy
As human beings, we cannot help wishing at times, to have some of those luxuries, skills and abilities possessed by others. This wish is healthy, as long as it does not result in admiration becoming transformed into venom, fomenting inner rage and resentment-the desire to spoil or destroy what we know or feel sure we can never obtain.
In the painting above by Haynes King, we can feel the envy and sadness of the girl by the window.
A Robin Compared to a Skylark
My audition for my university’s choral group, along with a friend, contrasted the ordinary with the unique, to my definite disadvantage. On tryout night, I told my friend, “Lark”, I would not be auditioning. Still, her disappointment and plea for support were such as to persuade me to do so. Asked by the director to try out first, I did an adequate enough job to be consigned to the chorus with most of the others.
Then, it was Lark’s turn. Like nearly everyone who heard her voice, the director was stirred by its absolute beauty, offering her two upcoming solos. For my part, I sat down, feeling glum, and yes, envious. Still, I experienced no urge, then or later, to sabotage her success, even if I had known of some means of so-doing.
A Mother Turns Jealousy into Toxic Action
Conversely, one of my sons “Leon” was eager to join the British Royal Air Force (RAF). He passed every screening and interview with top-notch scores. Meanwhile, a friend of his, having applied, had not met their criteria. At some point, officials contacted Leon, based on the fact that the postal address of someone they had rejected was the same as one which contained a damning description of Leon.
Later, it was confirmed that the mother of the young man who had not been accepted had gained access to a reference form and written a series of lies about Leon. Having been brought up to treat others with integrity, Leon kept asking me why someone would do something not only cruel but completely pointless. My only honest response was that envy can sometimes be so corrosive as to erode and even erase any sense of good-will and fairness.
The Deadly Sin of Gluttony
Gluttony is the consumption of food, far beyond nutritional needs and the quelling of hunger. Still, during those centuries when adequate food was rare, corpulence was respected as an indication of affluence. Indeed, to read the menu of a princely feast can tend to leave readers in our time mildly nauseous. As Anthony Burgess writes in his life of Shakespeare, this high-fat, low-fiber diet urges us to make and enjoy an immediate salad.
Glorified: The Full Bodied Woman
Renowned Flemish portrait painter Peter Paul Rubens, (1557-1640) was hired by several courts to paint pictures including those of ladies many of which were naked. His tendency was to paint women in the form of being physically/femininely well-built. These might be considered as overweight by modern standards, but his art forms of woman are glorified and have generated the terms “Rubensian” or “Rubenesque” as a polite means of describing full-bodied women.
The Shift in Perceptiveness of Body Image
During the 1950s, when the need for diet and exercise became widely discussed, glamour goddesses were expected to be voluptuous. As food became plentiful, the image of the ideal woman metamorphosed. This evolution occurred with surprising speed; we need only contrast photos of early 1950s screen goddess Marilyn Monroe with those of the late 1960s super model “Twiggy” to perceive the transformation of values.
Currently, as Caitlin Moran writes in her memoir, the most hurtful insult, from school playground to public press is to be called or implied to be fat. Even if one is thin at the time, the fear arises: does this name-caller sense some likelihood of impending obesity? Such a thought is horrific enough to result in eating disorders.
The Deadly Sin of Wrath
Wrath is a state of rage which can prove overpowering, both to the person consumed by its force, and its unlucky recipient. For this reason, some people find it prudent to wait until they feel calmer before allowing themselves to say things which may shame them later, and cause irreparable harm to a person or relationship.
Unacknowledged wrath can take subtle forms. One man I knew years ago was prone to say demeaning things to others, justifying such comments as observations rather than insults. Once, confronted by someone he had offended, he replied in a tone of bemusement, “Yes, I do find a number of my remarks have upset several people.” He truly seemed puzzled.
Controlling Anger can be a Positive Parenting Tool
Wrath was probably included within the original deadly sins in that, like lust it can lead to violence and other damaging consequences. Interestingly it tends to be most often used in terms of “the wrath of god”. Parents, in their roles of encouraging worthwhile values in children, sometimes use this power as a kind of weapon.
Quiet reprimands are often far more effective. A Father, who saw his young son steal and eat an Easter egg from a shop, walked him back to the security desk, where the guard gave the boy a telling-off. The Father said nothing more on the subject; aware so-doing would be an act of needless browbeating.
The Deadly Sin of Sloth
Though sloth is now largely defined as physical laziness, it was not always seen in this way. In its earliest terms, sloth was viewed as a detachment from fellow beings, caused and combined with a Hades of sorrow. It was only when Christianity became a major influence that it became regarded as one of the most significant sins. Its despairing element was seen as a source of potential idleness and eventual suicide.
Lack of Self-Discipline Can Lead to Failure
Sloth is unique among the above-mentioned sins as it is often more evident to those around us than it is to ourselves. The high school or college student who views popularity and involvement in school activities as more essential than studying, may convince himself of the validity of this falsehood.
Once at college, freed from parental control, even an academically gifted student, annoyed by his alarm clock signaling an 8 a.m. class, may silence its warning, then pull up a quilt and turn over a pillow, to enjoy an extra hour of sleep.
Next time, sleep becomes easier, until it grows habitual. Then, having missed a large number of class sessions, the student decides that, bound to fail; there is no point in attending. Thus, having earned one failing grade, he may allow himself to accept a second, and perhaps a third. Eventually, he learns these failures, reflected on his grade report, will thwart or negate his acceptance into programs leading to a respected profession.
When the devil finds a slothful person empty and void of good works, he sends the other deadly sins to dwell within him.— Medieval tract
The Positive Effects of Inertia
Inertia is associated with lethargy and a lack of ambition. Still, it has a more positive side. Once we have begun an activity, inertia can impel us to continue. Hence, to those who claim they cannot move forward due to lack of motivation, a growing number of psychotherapists prompt them to begin a worthwhile activity, whether or not they feel ready. This is meant to surmount the quicksand of depression: “I am not motivated, so I won’t try, and since I have not tried, I cannot feel motivated.” The beginning of an activity often creates the urge to do more, thereby defeating the detrimental effects of increasing despondency.
The Eighth Deadly Sin of Hypocrisy
We interpret hypocrisy as the eighth deadly sin in its modern day form and not necessarily the literal meaning of pretended sanctity from the Latin (hypocrisis)
Hypocrisy occurs when someone claims to have principles which are contradicted by his behavior. An example is an employer who, while criticizing others for bigotry, finds pretexts for failing to hire qualified applicants, though his true basis is racial.
One of the primary taints of hypocrisy lies in its allowing people to conceal prejudice and other cruelties behind acceptable rhetoric. If practiced on a large plane, this can tend to result in an over-all sense of rejection by those who have already been hurt by this type of bias. If experienced too often, this can breed crime borne of a sense of the hopelessness of genuine effort.
Conversely, a father who, though a smoker himself, pleads with his college age offspring not to take up the habit does not deserve to be viewed as a hypocrite. This father may have become drawn to nicotine at an age when he felt infinite and invincible. Since then, he could have tried numerous times to free himself from its hold, but has not yet found the strength and self-discipline within himself to resist its enticement.
A Despicable Illustration of Hypocritical Behavior
The Ariel Castro Kidnappings
In 2002, Michelle Knight agreed to accept a ride home from Ariel Castro, the father of a friend. When she asked why he was turning his car in a strange direction, he said they should stop at his home to allow her to choose a puppy from a newly-born litter. As he had interwoven this choice into their conversation, she dismissed her inner alarm by believing that, even if he posed a menace, he would never harm one of his daughter’s friends. In fact, her entry into his house led to 11 years of captivity, regular beatings, rapes, and perhaps most agonizing of all, incessant taunts that no member of her family would make the slightest effort to find her.
A Partial End to Her Agony
In time, two other girls were abducted by the use of similar ruses. Gina, one of Michelle’s fellow victims, literally kept her alive after “the dude’s" maltreatment had all but killed her. Eventually, when his favorite victim, Amanda, gave birth to his child, he did start to develop paternal affection. Believing God should be part of his daughter’s life, he took her to a local church every Sunday. Assuming the guise of a Christian, “the dude” had often raped Michelle a mere few hours before. As she points out, it would be difficult to envision a deeper type of hypocrisy.
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© 2015 Colleen Swan