Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride
The concepts of sin and virtue are universal. Every society and religion on the planet teaches that some actions move us forward, and others move us backward. Most cultures share similar ideas as to which traits are positive (virtues) and negative (sins).
Problems arise with these teachings when they are too simplistic and regimented. Our focus moves outward, away from our internal guidance, toward behavior and hope of an ultimate reward (Heaven, enlightenment, Moksha, Valhalla, whatever). If, on the other hand, we focus internally and are present in the moment, we will get a more precise sense of what is best for us and our situations.
One of these lists is the so-called “Seven Cardinal Sins.” The list doesn’t come directly from the Bible but has been passed down through the centuries by teachers, saints, and popes. It describes a list of qualities, behaviors, or tendencies to be avoided or transformed. As I understand it, the teaching is that these sins will keep a person out of heaven. The worst is pride, and the others kind of stem from it. That’s all well and good, but eradicating these qualities from our lives is a problem for several reasons.
The primary problem is biology. Many of these sins are coded into our DNA. As a species, we wouldn’t survive long without a tendency toward them. Lust naturally drives the imperative to procreate. Gluttony gives us the incentive to over-indulge during times of plenty so that we can survive during leaner times. The desire for more, the inclination to only do what is necessary to survive, and the rest are all behaviors that, in nature, respond to selective pressure.
Of course, in a civilized society, these genetic urges cause problems. Our biology, it seems, is primed for survival alone or in small groups.
I think it might be interesting to explore these ideas in fiction. I can see a short story, or maybe a Bridge at San Luis Rey type book that looks at a group of people and how their sins, for which they are punished and feel guilt over, are imperatives that, if followed, would lead to the greater good.
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