With apologies to anyone that came across this article by googling
It would be nice if the road to Hell were clearly marked with something like "Hell, This Way." If only it were that obvious. But, it's not that obvious, is it.
In the previous article the issue of sin was explored in some detail. Sin was defined as a moral evil, and evil was defined as the diminishment of being. With sin defined as a moral evil, the Seven Signposts on the Highway to Hell were listed. These are traditionally called the Seven Deadly Sins.
Many have a sense that on Judgement Day, we will be confronted with our lives, and our good deeds and bad deeds will be on a scale, and when we are weighed and measured our fate will be sealed. Hidden therein is the unwarranted belief that somehow we will manage to tip the scales to our benefit, because, after all, we really aren't bad people, are we? Also, I think people like to pretend that what they are doing isn't really sin. So, in their minds, they don't have a bunch of sins piling up on one side of the scale.
However I want to propose a different view. It's not so much about being good or bad. Remember, we all fall short of God. Whether we are good or bad is just about where we fall on the continuum of less than perfect. Here's a question: Can we ever actually be good enough?
Here's what I think. On Judgement Day we will simply have the decision that we made in life officially recognized. What decision? Did we choose Jesus or not? And this covers my point about pretending that we are basically perfect and rarely if ever sin. On Judgement Day, we will not be able to pretend any longer.
It will be game over.
On that positive note, perhaps we should gain a clear understanding of the Seven Signposts on the Highway to Hell.
- Avarice (a much cooler word than Greed)
- Acedia (a much cooler word than Sloth)
Before looking at each individually, it is important to note that these are all a perversion of a good. That is how sin works. "Pervert" is an interesting word. It shares a Latin root with similar words: convert, subvert, extrovert, introvert, divert, etc. The Latin root is "vert" and it means "to turn." An introvert is someone who is turned in on his or herself.
To pervert is to turn something away from its original course or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended. Note, Satan can only pervert. He has not the power to create anything. Satan can only work with and within God's creation and all he does is pervert, that is distort and corrupt, turning things from their original intention, design, or purpose. (Cautionary note: we humans cannot create either. We can only work with and within God's creation. We are in the same sandbox as Satan. How will we play?)
These sins also have in common a fundamental disorder: Rather than ordered toward the other, i.e., love of God and love of neighbor, they are ordered toward self.
These Seven Signposts are all self-indulgent perversions. Some have become so common that they are not recognized as perversions anymore. And self-indulgence is the basis of marketing and marketing is pervasive in our society. It is my sincere hope that the following will be helpful in alerting the reader on which path they are traveling.
Lust: Lust is a perversion of love. In this aspect, the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is use. Instead of loving someone because they are a child of God, we use someone for our own pleasure. Using someone diminishes both that person and ourselves.
Gluttony: Gluttony is a perversion of appetite. We need to eat, and a properly ordered appetite is a good. We should eat from necessity not as entertainment or for satisfaction. St. Thomas Aquinas said there are five ways in which we can have a disordered appetite: Too soon, Too expensively, Too much, Too eagerly, Too daintily. (translation rendered by Fr. Joseph Rickaby) This does not mean that we can't enjoy a good meal. But the enjoyment is a bonus accrued in the context of the end of eating, which is nourishment. Eating for enjoyment alone is a distortion or corruption of the original intent of the appetite. Note that this appetite can extend beyond eating. We have a consumer society. Gluttony also applies to the consumption of media, knowledge, material goods, etc.
Avarice: Avarice is a great word. It means "to crave" a definition much more pregnant with meaning than greed. Greed is an intense desire for something. Avarice is extreme greed. Please note, this is essentially Lust with regard to inanimate objects and as such is disordered. This is also a perversion of Love in that it is an inordinate love of riches.
Acedia: Another great word that means more than simply lazy. It is the "don't care feeling" as Fr. Rickaby translates it. Laziness, sloth, apathy, boredom, these are all subsumed in the word acedia. Matt 7:14 says, "for the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." The effort to be who we are, who God intends that we be, "is so hard," we whine. Unless we are too disinterested to even whine. St. Thomas completes his lengthy definition of acedia by stating it is torpor in the presence of Spiritual Good. It is as if, laying there hungry, within a foot of life-sustaining food, we lack even the desire to rise up and eat. Acedia is, at some level, involved in all decisions to sin, because, we tell ourselves, it's just too hard to be good, to seek good. This is a perversion of our very nature, since we are created to know God.
Wrath: This sin is often translated as "anger" but anger is not a sin. Anger, properly, is a response to a wrong. It is the emotion that stirs us to right that wrong, even in the face of hardship or danger. In this sense anger is the opposite of acedia, and is a function of charity, justice and mercy. The perversion of anger is wrath. It is when the desire to correct an injustice is replaced with the desire for vengeance. We are rightly cautioned to control our anger. Due to the intensity of the emotion, it easily gives in to wrath. Note also, we right a wrong in service to others, to God and to our neighbor. We succumb to wrath when we see ourselves as Judge and Jury, in service to our sense of right and wrong. Another note: I find it very interesting that our sense of right and wrong can elicit such strong emotion. That says something about how we are made.
Envy: This is traditionally translated as jealousy but that word seems to have largely been relegated to matters of the heart, where one is jealous over the attentions received by another rather than yourself. However, envy is more generally attuned to the metaphysical evil discussed in the previous post. Recall that the fact of others limits us in some way. It is when we view this limit as a diminishment of ourselves and view the other as the cause of that diminishment that we experience envy. For example, someone pulls up at work in a new car. We can be happy for them, or we can experience a sadness because we feel lessened in some way by their gain. But rather, we should, in solidarity, rejoice in their happiness. Envy engenders a kind of malice, a wishing of ill on another. Note also that envy involves a kind of self-torture as when one gives in to envy, one will always be distressed because of holding onto the idea that the success of another constitutes a direct evil to oneself.
Pride: St. Thomas considers pride to be the queen of all vices as it entails a contempt of God and seeks to withdraw oneself from subjection to Almighty God. This is said to be the sin for which Satan was damned. There are many ways in which Pride can be manifest, ranging from a self-exaltation that has something Satanic within it, to merely thinking you deserve the gifts God has bestowed upon you, perhaps because of your meritorious works. Note again that all marketing involves an appeal to pride, or an attempt to engender pride by the suggestion that you deserve this new shampoo, or car, or phone, and all it's benefits. Pride is simply a perversion of our very selves as it turns us aside from the true and correct object of your love and attention, God, to focus on ourselves.
These then are the Seven Signposts on the Highway to Hell. Why should you be on the lookout for them?
These sins are called Deadly because they dispose us to all possible forms of sin, including those sins that are mortal--sins that destroy charity in our hearts. In that sense, they would seem to offer tangible proof that no, we did not choose Jesus.
They are pervasive and here in the United States they are in many ways disguised as virtues rather than vices.
Matt 7:13-14 is unambiguous.
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
"...and those who find it are few."
Well now, that's uplifting, eh? So, what do you do if you realize that you are on the Highway to Hell? And can we really, in our fallen nature, do anything about it? Fortunately, what you can do has been pretty carefully worked out over the last 20 centuries. It starts with the an answer to a question asked of Jesus:
25 When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" 26* But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matt 19:25-26
If you are on the Highway to Hell, that means you are going in the wrong direction. Instead of being perverted, that is turned aside from the path you should be on, you have to be converted, that is turn back toward your reason for existence, turn with the author of that existence.
Turn around. What do you see on the other side of the Seven Signposts on the Highway to Hell? Find out in the follow up post!
Resources for this article:
- The Catholic Encyclopedia on Sin
- A painting by Bosch and discussion on the Seven Deadly Sins