Y’know, this is a really interesting question–but not for the reasons you might think.
Let’s take a look at these seven deadly sins. Sloth, greed, lust, gluttony, anger, envy, and pride. Trust the Catholics to come up with a list of affronts against man and God, but not to list things like, for example, “murder” or “rape” or “genocide.”
“But Tacit!” you might say. “You’re barking mad, or at least splitting semantic and theological hairs. Wrath can lead to murder! Rape can be caused by lust! And genocide–”
Well, I’m not sure what on this list really matches up with genocide. Not sloth, certainly; genocide is damn hard work. Pride? Those who commit atrocity usually think they’re better than the person they commit it against, but that’s not exactly pride, precisely; it’s something else.
Which is exactly where this list falls apart.
You see, of the seven things on the list, five of them are not actions. They’re emotions. And here’s the tricky bit–as human beings, we choose our actions. We choose our actions, even when we feel emotions.
Many people can feel angry, without acting on that anger. Many people can feel lust, without violating anyone because of it. It’s actions, not feelings, that carry moral weight; we are, each of us, responsible for the things we do, but to assign moral value to a feeling seems a little absurd.
Hell, read Song of Solomon in the Bible. The whole damn book is an ode to lust. The lust that a man feels for his wife is perfectly normal; I would say even positive and healthy, especially if one believes in the Catholic notion of being fertile and
popping out pups multiplying. On the other hand, the lust a priest feels for an alter boy? Not cool.
You see that? You see what I just did there? Context. Moral value depends inexorably on context.
Even folks who claim to despise “moral relativism” still believe it. Alice shoots Bob in the head with a .50-valiber Desert Eagle, spreading his intelligence and his awareness all over her living room wall like a demented Jackson Pollock. Is that morally wrong? I bet a lot of folks would probably say it is. Now let’s add to the scenario a bit; she did it because he was in the process of attempting to murder her children. Is it morally wrong now?
You see that? Context. The moral value of an action depends on its context.
But let’s go back to the list. Anger; who hasn’t felt it? It’s a feeling; an inevitable human emotion hard-wired into the limbic system of every one of us.
Count on the Catholics to turn a feeling into something to be guilty about.
Look, the guy who gets pissed off and smacks his wife around is an asshole, no doubt about it. But the guy who gets pissed off and yet manages to keep his cool in spite of it? That guy is not a sinner, and indeed there is greater virtue in doing the right thing even in the grip of an emotion than in doing the right thing when the right thing is easy to do.
We can flip this list on its head, too. The Mob hit man who whacks sixteen people in cold blood–which deadly sin is he committing? Not sloth, certainly. Not greed–as it turns out, hit men don’t usually get paid very much for what they do. Far less than a lawyer, or a plastic surgeon, or a professional basketball player. Hell, they probably make less money than a computer help desk operator! Hollywood aside, shooting people really doesn’t pay the way you think it would.
Lust? Doesn’t fit. Gluttony? If eating too much is the worst thing you ever do, they should give you the VIP entrance into Heaven. Anger? A good hit man is cool and collected; he’s not motivated by rage. Angry people get sloppy.
How about envy? He might not even know the target, much less envy him. Pride? Well, I suppose he might take pride in a well-executed job (Ha! I slay me!), but then I think most professionals take a certain pride in their craft.
So the guy who gets pissed off but doesn’t act on it is a mortal sinner, but the guy who whacks people for a living isn’t? Who is this god, and how did he get the job? I gotta say, if I were a god, you can bet the list of deadly sins would look a whole lot different. A little less with the “feeling” and a lot more with the “doing,” if you ask me.