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The Seven Deadly Sins

03/26/08 5:55PM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison is a past president of both Middlebury College and the Salzburg Seminar, and today he's reflecting on the effort to update the Seven Deadly Sins.  

(ROBISON) All of us have heard of and many of us have committed many of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Some of us, thank goodness, have spent more time on the Heavenly virtues, which are, not surprisingly, the opposite of the deadly sins.

Now, dear friends, I am compelled to confess that I grew up in the evangelical wing of American protestantism, and we paid little attention to such Papist inventions as the list of deadly sins.

But there is news on this front:  The list of Seven Deadly Sins has recently been revised.  Such revisions seem quite dramatic - probably more than is actually warranted.  The list around for a very long time and has been amended several times.

The current list has been around almost in its current form for about 1500 years - ever since the 6th century.  But even Pope Gregory the Great (so-called) - the guy who established the current list - was working from a list of eight sins propagated the previous century by a Greek mystic.  So, in one form or another, the list has now been around for about 1600 years.

The list that most of us have know includes, in ascending order of severity, gluttony, lust, avarice (or greed), sloth, anger, vanity and pride.

The new list, as set forth by the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Vatican, goes like this:

-genetic engineering
-drug dealing
-social injustice, and
-extreme wealth

The very first thing I personally needed to get beyond was the name "the Apostolic Penitentiary."  It has nothing to do with locking people up.  It is the part of the Vatican that concerns itself with confessions and absolutions.  All of this seems noteworthy to me because this new list of deadly sins comes from the Vatican at exactly the same time that a similar agenda is emerging from many evangelical protestant quarters.

There are now political commentators saying that the political clout of the most conservative christian groups is beginning to recede.  It also comes as various evangelical leaders are concluding that they have been "used" by politicians in ways they do not like.

One of the most prominent of the so-called mega-church pastors is now saying that he and his congregation will henceforth focus their energies on the reduction of poverty and the elimination of illiteracy.  There is now a National Evangelical Association devoted to Climate Control.

When one tries to look beyond the political correctness of all this, it is clear that there is an underlying unifying theological belief to both Catholics and Evangelicals.  It is this: it is a belief that we are all the custodians of God's creation, and this is a serious responsibility.

I personally liked the old list better.  Each category is summarized in one word.  It makes it easy to remember.

I also like the reintroduction into our social discourse of the concept of sin.  We have long had a public obsession with what is and is not legal.  But that which may, or may not, be sinful is, quite simply, a different discussion.
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