Seven Deadly Virtues: Part I

October 5, 2006

 

While nowhere, strictly speaking, written in the form of a list; the commonly accepted seven deadly sins of the Christian faith are: Superbia (pride), Avaritia (avarice), Luxuria (extravagance or lust), Invidia (envy), Gula (gluttony), Ira (wrath), and Aceda (sloth).

These deadly sins, named ‘deadly’ because they are said to ‘kill’ a life of grace unless absolved through confession, exist in opposition to the (significantly less talked about) seven holy virtues of virtus (chastity or purity), liberalitas (liberality), frenum (abstinence or moderation), industria (diligence), patientia (patience), humanitas (kindness or satisfaction), and humilitas (humility).

Now I am by no means a religious man. At best I am a bad non-practicing jew (love that bacon) and at worst, if true the words of the kid who sat in front of me at the Catholic summer school I once attended, I’m going straight to hell. However, it seems to me that the deadly sins and holy virtues, if they are to reflect the values of modernity, need to be re-examined.


More precisely, if we are to be honest, I would contend that the ‘seven deadly sins’ represent not moral taboos – but the highest ideals of late modern capitalist society.

Let us consider each ‘deadly sin’ in turn.

Superbia (Pride)

Understood as a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own worth or dignity, pride can be constituted either by private opinion or public behavior. This cannot, of course, be conflated with the concept of self-esteem, which is characterized by a realistic and favorable opinion of one’s worth.
Yet, quite apart from confidence or self-esteem, our society seems obsessed with finding new ways to project our own self-worth. Cars, watches, clothes, blinds – through countless luxuries we try to project ever higher images of self-worth. Perhaps, some might argue, this is not truly pride in so far as few of us ever manage to really believe in the image we invest so much in projecting, yet still the underlying value seems constant.

Avaria (avarice or greed)

This one is obviously not too hard a sell, but I will take the time to note some of the differences between avarice and greed. Greed is an excessiveness of desires, typically for possessions or wealth – though not exclusive to them. Avarice is the obsession with the accumulation of wealth. While one might contend that greed is still frowned upon as a character flaw (personally I don’t really think so), avarice is the underlying value that drives the entire modern capitalist machine. From birth we are taught to accumulate wealth, and that this accumulation translates into other forms of happiness. To degree to which this is true is debatable, but also irrelevant. Regardless of whether the obsession with the accumulation of wealth is pleasant or not, it underpins every element of our society.

Luxuria (Extravagence)

Most commonly known as the deadly sin of lust, luxuria actually translates more accurately to extravagance. This is particularly interesting in my opinion, as I could never really get behind ‘lust’ as a sin. Lust, or intense sexual appetite, doesn’t seem immediately negative. Interestingly enough, as the only deadly sin I do not really think is inherently destructive, luxuria (if understood as lust) is the only deadly sin not embraced and supported by our society.

I know, I know. Give me a second; let me explain.

Yes, everything in our society is radically sexualized. Sex sells everything. However, it is desire that is ok, not lust. For while the appetite is nurtured, the fulfillment of that appetite is closely managed. Sex is riddled with discourses of risk. Risky behavior, dangers, terrible perversions, and abusive monsters lurk around every sexual bend. Lust is thus, an unhealthy and dangerous appetite, and one that must be forever mediated and intervened upon. This is because, in my opinion, the desire constantly generated by the sex/sell couplet in our society is not intended for sexual satiation, but instead translated into other forms of desire – consumerism.

In this way, lust, if one understands it to include both the appetite and the eating, is not really supported by our society.

This having been said, luxuria understood in its original sense, as extravagance, is yet another central tenant of our late modern society. From thrice spinning rims, 52’ plasma TVs, gold flaked liquors, extra biggie french fries, silk bed sheets, resort vacations, to multi-functioning portable everythings, our society has taken to extravagance like a sex starved convict to a Vaseline sales rep.

Where once ‘luxury’ was a derogatory term, now it sells product after product. Extravagance has been conflated with elegance, as style has been with excess. Paris Hilton is modernity’s answer to geisha or the debutant.

I do not say these things to pass judgement on others. Consider these ramblings self-reflexive. As much as I try to orient myself towards philosophy and art, I do not believe I have escaped societies allegance to avarice, extravagance or pride. It is not about personal qualities, so much as the underpinning logic of the system. Success is the successful accumulation of wealth, attractiveness and self-confidence are completely entwined in behaviors and shows of over estimation of self worth, and extravagance now describes the fantastic or marvelous.

Of course there is more to say, and hopefully not only from me. I am interested in what others think – and I will continue on with Invidia (envy), Gula (gluttony), Ira (wrath), and Aceda (sloth) in the days to come.

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8 Responses to “Seven Deadly Virtues: Part I”

  1. Yo diggity Says:

    While I agree on some levels to the discussion, I think that blanket assumptions on our society are unsatisfactory. Mainstream society does indeed value to accumulation of wealth, but what about all those green eco-hippy types or anarchist punk types? But my beef mainly is with lust, as lust is, in my opinion, not the culmination of the sexual desire, but the obsession with the object of desire. As with avarice, the obsession with the object of desire is far worse than the actual desire. I do happen to agree with that paticular critique of desire/obsession, and not because sexuality is wrong or bad. Just as avarice is bad because it creates a focus on material things, so is lust. And lust is rampant in this society, no matter how we personally judge or value sexuality in ourselves and others.

    As for pride, I think that one is better understood as vanity. Pride/vanity is wholly separate from self-esteem. Vanity, as with pride, has to do with appearences, although vanity is almost completely physical. Pride is more societal (i.e., saving face, etc).

  2. Satan Says:

    That’s right, keep talking it out, kids.
    *makes notes in giant book*
    Oh, just as a friendly reminder, I think your Escapade is almost out of gas, but Paris Hilton is almost finished washing it with her barely covered nipples…
    *laughs maliciously*
    *disappears in a puff of smoke*

  3. w0rmwood Says:

    “But my beef mainly is with lust, as lust is, in my opinion, not the culmination of the sexual desire, but the obsession with the object of desire.”

    Interesting… i certainly think there is a good deal of obsessive behaviour in our society. About lust.

    Definitionally lust is:

    1.intense sexual desire or appetite.
    2.uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness.
    3.a passionate or overmastering desire or craving (usually fol. by for): a lust for power.

    So does lust necessarily involve objectification? I’m not sure. I believe people can (and do) become obsessed with the ‘object’ of desire, but lust is the apetite for, not the focus on.

    That having been said, of course your interpretation is valid.

    I myself think that lust inferes not only the apetite, but the attempt (successful or not) to sate it.

    So while society oversexualizes everything, I am not sure that the result is increased lust – actually i think the result is increased objectification.

    Sexual desire is harnessed to consumerist ends. We think he or she is hot, but we do not become obsessed with sating our sexual longing for him or her, but rather we objectify our desire and seek to fulfill it commercially.

    So overall, I agree. Objectification is the problem, but i do not think it is the same as lust.

  4. Mike Says:

    WTF is an escapade and why is Hilton washing it? Do you mean Escalade as in the vehicle from Cadillac?

    I’m calling you on that one Satan, and I’m marking down that you owe me a favour.


  5. “WTF is an escapade and why is Hilton washing it? ”

    An escapade is an adventure or outing, and Paris Hilton is washing it because she’s a souless whore.

  6. jaybird Says:

    And why is she souless?

    *points at Satan*

  7. Mike Says:

    Look I caught the Devil cockin’ up I want my dues. Why are you playing his advocate? Oh wait… I see what’s going on here the mind controlling waves.

  8. Joe Says:

    “Brave New World” anyone?


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