Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Absolved of all sins

Al-Ahram Weekly

To illuminate such a vast zone as “The Seven Deadly Sins” is no small task.  What we may lose in range, we may hopefully gain in courage.

When early man accepted the concept that he was superior to animals, he discovered his soul.  He invented religion or religions in order to help him refine his emotions, his behaviour and his relationships.

The ladder of progress was too tempting to resist. He climbed and climbed and kept on climbing.  But Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch” or Superman is the creation of a dreamer.  It is an illusory, hallucinatory or visionary concept, far from the reality of mankind.

The Fall of Man cost him the loss of Eden, because of the lack of self-control. Discipline is of paramount importance and discipline evades man regularly.  Professor Roy Baumeister of the University of Florida believes that human beings are animals who have managed to create a new kind of social system, which requires them to overcome their natural animal habits, inclinations and tendencies, so as to follow the rules that enable the system to make life better for everyone. “Self-control is a vital faculty for enabling them to accomplish that.” Our main failing.

Do we always fall victims to the seven deadly sins? What are those sins that have plagued man for so long?  Pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, sloth and greed. Really!

The list originated with the fathers of Christianity — those evil thoughts and spirits we need to overcome. They became fundamental to Catholic confessional practices as ordered by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century.

It is surprising that ‘lying’ is not included, although lies propel one to commit more sins— deadly ones. But we have learned to classify lies, big, small, white, black and we have become a society of liars.  In Islam you lose your faith for lying — so it should be.  The Holy Quran has a similar doctrine as self-control called ‘nafs’ or self, psyche, ego or soul.  The discipline of “erfan”, or spiritual knowledge is required.

Here comes discipline again.  How does man constrain from those seven deadly sins, which seem almost benign in today’s society.  Those seven deadly sins have occupied our ‘conscience’ for ages and still do. Books, novels, paintings, theses and movies have examined and re-examined them.  Most notable of those movies was ‘Se7en’, (1995), with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.  A popular TV show entitled ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ is starting its second season.  Why can we not leave the subject alone?  Guilt.

Those ancient vices are just as relevant today but re-interpreted to accommodate a corrupt society.  Look around you.  Friends, colleagues, neighbours, leaders… look at yourself.  Are we not all guilty of one or more or all of the seven deadly sins?  The fact is they are not only ancient, they are part of human nature — not the best part, but psychologists offer a comforting spin. They see a fundamental difference between yesterday’s and today’s sins.

When our economy is crippled by bankers’ avarice… is that greed?  When Tigerwood’s career is sidelined, was that lust?  Sixty per cent of the world’s population will be obese by 2050, is that gluttony? So!  

Wrath, or anger, ensures our pursuit of our ambitions, if thwarted or threatened.  Who would not be angry?  Envy and pride propel us to seek status, wealth, resources… psychologists say that is good. Why are they sinful?

Henceforth, envy, wrath and pride are no more than human emotions, with “evolutionary adaptive functions”.  You have nothing to worry about.

Gluttony, lust and greed are related to unconstrained consumption of food, sex and power.  Food is not man’s best friend, we have discovered, and moderation has always been desirable.

As for sloth, or laziness, it is merely a lack of motivation or drive. We prefer to lounge than work. That is a failure to control the animal within---oh yes, he is there and appears when we lose control.

How about dogged pursuit of wealth and power, is that good or bad?  Why it is only part of human nature. Tim Kasser of Knox College, Illinois believes that “values of self- enhancement, materialism, values are desirable if they do not consume our lives for status and image.  Competitive cultures foster such values.  No sin is committed, for all cultures on earth today have become competitive. Do we therefore need to go to the moon to avoid those deadly sins.

In her study Kathleen Vohs of the Carlson School of Management discovered that the sight of money reduced the time people spent savouring a chunk of chocolate.  It must be true that ‘money is the root of all evil.’ Human beings created this society----let human beings deal with it.

If greed motivates us to obtain wealth and status, envy is created in those who lack it. Author of “ENVY: Theory and Research”, Richard Smith writes: “When we envy we feel inferior, longing, resentment and ill will towards the advantaged.” This is by no means jealousy according to Smith.  Jealousy is the fear of losing to a rival, feeling anxious, suspicious, betrayed.  And here we thought they were one and the same… so go ahead and be jealous… it is not a deadly sin.

None of the seven deadly sins are sins and certainly not deadly.
Relax. Pursue your goals by whatever means.

Like Machiavelli, psychologists have absolved you of all sins.

Blame it on human nature, without discipline, conscience or control.



“Every vice has its excuse ready.”
Publilius Syrus (first century BC)

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