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!)