In the February 28, 2005 edition, The National Review reported on a polling organization that asked a thousand citizens to update the list of “Seven Deadly Sins” (pride, envy, wrath, sloth, lust, avarice, and gluttony). Apparently the list seemed out of date so it was replaced with the sins of cruelty, adultery, bigotry, dishonesty, hypocrisy, greed, and selfishness. Personally, I’m glad gluttony is off the list but it makes you think: “What is the difference between the two lists?” and what does it say about modern times?
The old list was the product of a monk by the name of Evagrius Ponticus as revised (and simplified) by a later pope. The Bible is overflowing with catalogs of sin (see Galatians 5:19-21 for one example) and he was trying to narrow it down to root sins – sins that lead into other sins, but that leads us into defining what sin is.
While sin harms us and other people, the biblical focus is on how it damages our relationship with God. So David confesses “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4) after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had his friend Uriah murdered. David understood that the root cause of his sins was disobeying God. The beginning of his tragic actions was lust (He saw Bathsheba and allowed himself to fantasize) and pride (“I’m the king.”).
In contrast the modern seven sins are “equated with causing pain or mental distress to people” with its logical corollary “Is it wrong if no one gets hurt?” which begs the question “Are there victimless crimes?” Obviously, God doesn’t count.
It’s not that the modern list isn’t horrible – it is – it’s just not all that helpful. For example, adultery is a terrible sin but its roots are found in pride, lust, envy and perhaps gluttony (properly defined). Likewise, hypocrisy stinks but it is the result of earlier sins like pride and anger.
By chopping at the roots of sin rather than the leaves of sin, we have a far better chance of making actual progress in the tricky business called “Life.”