The Magazine

Seven New Deadly Sins

Suitably updated.

Apr 14, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 29 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Busy times for us sinners--there are now an additional Seven Deadly Sins. The fresh abominations in the eyes of the Lord were announced by Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Vatican body that oversees confessions and plenary indulgences. This organization goes by the contrition-inducing name of the Apostolic Penitentiary. In an article in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Bishop Girotti detailed the seven new ways we can go to hell or, at the minimum, be sentenced to afterlife in purgatory at the Apostle Pen. The bishop's supersizing of the mortal transgression catalog is thoroughly up-to-date (as translated by the Times of London):

1. Drug abuse

2. Morally debatable experimentation

3. Environmental pollution

4. Causing poverty

5. Social inequality and injustice

6. Genetic manipulation

7. Accumulating excessive wealth

Not to argue theology with the Vatican, but environmental pollution is hardly among Satan's strongest temptations. Pollution is not a passion we resist with an agony of will for the sake of our immortal souls. I've been to parties where all seven of the original deadlies were on offer in carload lots. Never once have I heard a reveler shout with evil glee, "Let's dump PCBs in the Hudson River!"

If all environmental pollution were stopped forthwith--as any proper sin ought to be--wouldn't this result in "causing poverty"? Eschewing New Deadly Sin #3 forces us to commit New Deadly Sin #4. And New Deadly Sin #5 as well, since "social injustice and inequality" cannot be eliminated without global economic progress. Furthermore, that progress depends in part on New Deadly Sin #6, the genetic manipulation entailed in the bioengineering of new high-yield crop varieties to feed the hungry. Here we have Bishop Girotti, who is supposed to be leading us to God, leading us instead to a hopeless paradox and the unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, despair.

Speaking of which, modern economists despair of any way to quit causing poverty except by accumulating excessive wealth--the excess supplying the capital needed for global economic progress. Also the Right Reverend should get out more and take a walk around Vatican City. A Mother Teresa leper hospital it ain't.

Still, one takes the bishop's point. A deadly sins addendum is long overdue. Life has changed since Pope Gregory the Great scribbled his initial list in the sixth century. For one thing modern society has turned Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Sloth, and Greed into virtues: building self-esteem, dreaming your dream, exercising gourmet tastes, having satisfying sex for life, speaking truth to power, being relaxed and centered. And Gordon Gekko said it all about greed.

Unfortunately Bishop Girotti's late-model sins make as little sense as a Jeremiah Wright sermon. They have no gravitas. Imagine the reaction in the confessional when you say, "Father, I have littered." Plus the supplementary desecrations lack a certain flair. The beauty of Pope Gregory's lineup was that he nailed our most devilish villainies with one word each. His seven evocative nouns produced an instant mental image: a puffed-up, shifty-eyed, fat cat furiously ripping the thong off a young intern on a slow night in the Oval Office.

I pretend to no expertise, let alone authority, in religious matters. However, I can't resist the temptation of having a go, myself, at The Seven Deadly, Part II. (I once would have felt it was prideful to do so, but that was before building my self-esteem.)

1.  Celebrity. This is far and away the besetting sin of the 21st century. Note that the root of the word is "celebrate." What evil, pentagram-enclosed, goat-heinie-kissing ceremony are we celebrating with Kevin Federline?

2.  Communication. In former days just Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and only one time at that. Now everybody's a know-it-all 24/7 thanks to Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, email, cell phones, text messages, and so on. A cherubim with a flaming sword is expelling us from the office cubicle of Eden, or would be if he could tear us away from the Internet. (And you, young man in the reading audience, take those ear buds out when your elders are addressing you!)

3.  Youth. Talk about worshiping false gods; why would anyone pray--or pay!--for youthfulness? The young are spotty, sweaty, chowder-headed, and woefully lacking in wisdom, experience, or control over anything, especially themselves. Yet we bear witness to the eternally babyish baby boom. Men in their sixties are on Harleys and snowboards and basketball courts, from which they will proceed to damnation by way of the emergency room. The women go to and fro in the earth, mutton dressed as lamb, with liposuction well-applied to tummy, butt, and brain. And they all come to Mass, when at all, in shorts, T-shirts, and shower flip-flops.

4.  Authenticity. Please do your best to be someone better than who you truly are. Deep down inside we're ravening beasts. This is the meaning of original sin. Everyone's authentic self is horrid. God's message to man has always been, "You can't really be good, but you can fake it. Really."

5.  Caring. This takes so much time and effort that it necessarily results in the opposite of doing something. And notice that when someone says, "I care about the war in Iraq," he almost always means, "I want to lose it." Also there's a bullying logic among those who care. I care more about diddledydum than you do. Therefore I'm a better person than you are. Because I'm a better person than you are, I have the right to order you around. And vote for Hillary on November 4th.

6.  Opinion. It's the reverse of fact. Listen to NPR or AM Talk Radio if you don't believe me, or, better yet, read the opinion page of the New York Times. (I'm talking about you, Paul Krugman.) Some people have facts, these can be proven. Some people have theories, these can be disproven. But people with opinions are mindless and have their minds made up about it. The 11th Commandment is, "Thou shalt not blog."

7.  To Spend More Time With the Family. Alas, I couldn't get this into a single descriptive term, but it might as well be all one word. And when people say it we know that they've been doing something at least as bad as the former governor of New Jersey, his wife, their chauffeur, and Eliot Spitzer in a hot tub together. "We need to move on," is a similar phrase but with the implication of, "And I won't quit doing it until I'm actually behind bars."

No doubt our venial sins could use a do-over as well, but my sanctimoniousness reserves are nearly exhausted. Nonetheless I'll wager that one of those venial sins is blowing neo-lefty stink bombs out your bishop's miter.

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.