Tuesday, 11 March 2008

New 'sins' for a new century (update 2)

rosary1 The Vatican has outlined "seven new deadly sins for our times." (Story here at The Times.) Where the earlier sins drawn up by Pope Gregory all of fourteen centuries ago dealt with sins supposedly against God -- things full of life-enhancing individualist exuberance like lust, gluttony and pride -- these new "sins for the twenty-first century" are designed, so the Vatican says, "to make worshippers consider the increased impact their lives have on other people in light of globalisation."

In other words, this is the socialisation of sin. Where the church once wanted you to feel bad about enjoying yourself because their God might not like it, now the church wants you to feel bad about enjoying yourself because you neighbour might not. As a colleague comments, "I love the Socialist idea that individual sins are not as important as social sins!" And I love the idea that your neighbour is more important than the Pope's imaginary friend. At least that much is true. When your neighbour twitches the curtains they do it so you notice, but no one yet has ever got a call from God asking us to turn our stereo down.

So let's look at these new sins for the twenty-first century. Where once the sin of envy might have got you boiled in oil, now the sin of 'environmental damage' will see you boiling Gaia. Allegedly. For this alleged offence, the catholic church prescribes a large indulgence paid to the catholic church. Naturally. They saw Al Gore had a good deal going, selling indulgences for the mortal sin of exhaling carbon, and they thought they ought to get in on it. And since they invented the whole 'making money off of guilt' thing, they figured they owed it to themselves to reassert their place in the market.

The new list condemns "manipulative" genetic modification, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, being "obscenely rich," and selling drugs. Oddly enough, the list itself omits the sin of paedophilia -- not presumably being considered "deadly " enough -- but a Vatican spokesman at least conceded this was a "mortal sin" which

had even infected the clergy itself and so had exposed the "human and institutional fragility of the Church." The mass media had “blown up” the issue “to discredit the Church”, but the Church itself was taking steps to deal with it.

Of course they are.

Now, one thing to notice about these sins is that they're just made up -- just made up in the sense that your little brother 'just makes up' the rules in the middle of a game. These aren't biblical sins, they didn't come from the head of God -- an angel didn't appear to the Pope or his angels giving them this new dispensation. When Bishop Girotti from the frighteningly-named Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican body which oversees confessions and plenary indulgences, says that "priests must take account of new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation," what he's saying is that the church is no longer a leader, it's a follower -- humanity is playing its own games, few people now want to play with them, and like a small boy (oops!) the church is desperate to find some way to catch up and join in and make money. When the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary concedes that surveys show 60 per cent of Catholics even in Catholic Italy no longer go to confession, what he's saying is that fewer and fewer people are finding any relevance in the church, and the church is worried.

That's a good thing. This new list is simply a last desperate tilt by a church on the edge of irrelevance -- a desperate church that has looked at itself and decided to head back to its core business: selling guilt for money.

After all, there's a very venal reason for the church get in on this latest scam. It's been pointed out all over that the idea of buying 'carbon offsets' to allay concerns about the carbon emissions of the likes of events like Live Earth are somewhat similar to the indulgences that the various Popes used to sell to rich parishioners to pay for new churches. The church invented the scam -- St Peters in Rome was built on the back of these indulgences -- and now they want to take it over again.

NB: Just for clarity, the BBC reports the seven 'new' sins to be:

  1. Environmental pollution

  2. Genetic manipulation

  3. Accumulating excessive wealth

  4. Inflicting poverty

  5. Drug trafficking and consumption

  6. Morally debatable experiments

  7. Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

UPDATE: Susan the Libertarian has her own list of seven sins for Pope Ben:

1. Tax. All taxes. Tax is theft, Ben, and a contravention of your boss's seventh commandment.

2. Censorship. All censorship. It is thought control.

3. The Electoral Finance Act. Yes, it's censorship, but it's such a travesty it deserves its own spot.

4. The Greens. Having lost the economic battle when the Soviet Union fell over, they swapped their red cardigans for green ones by playing the environmental card. 21st-century frauds.

5. Do-Gooders. Those who have no qualms in telling us all what to do, and always for our own good. You know them: they support all the usual causes and they're invariably white, middle-aged socialists. The worst.

6. AGW. Warmists. The zealots thereof. Those Who Must Not Be Questioned. They are today's reactionaries and every bit as frightening as their counterparts of old.

7. Reality TV and all 20-somethings in the pages of the women's mags. Brainless, mind-numbing and almost impossible to tell one from the other.

UPDATE 2: The Lay Science Blog analyses the not-quite encyclical and concludes, "I don't see how you can follow a set of statements that - when you analyze them - are basically meaningless..."

Suitably vague, and at times nonsensical, you can't help but wonder if they ran them through a focus group first. No doubt they'll repackage the Ten Commandments next. Oh, and they're predictably anti-science.

The new list is not as snappy as the original: pride; envy; gluttony; lust; anger and greed are joined by: environmental pollution; genetic manipulation; accumulating excessive wealth; inflicting poverty; drug trafficking and consumption; morally debatable experiments and the violation of fundamental rights of human nature. A quick glance reveals two interesting things, 1) that two of these are a direct attack on science, and 2) that they are so vague as to be meaningless. Let's take each one in turn, and then we'll look at what this means for Vatican policy.

UPDATE 3:   Hallelujah! says Lindsay Perigo.  "Sin comes of age" -- New Age.


  1. Do Morally Debateable Experiments include those of Mother Teresa?

  2. I've just blogged on this myself (http://layscience.net/?q=node/70), dismantling each of the "sins" in turn. Even if I were a Christian, I don't see how you can follow a set of statements that - when you analyze them - are basically meaningless...

  3. I'd like to see Christian conservatives on that list: those who oppose equal rights for non-heterosexuals, who would criminalize abortion and prostitution, and who would impose their "family values" on the rest of us.

  4. The real sin is to be religious. Avoid that sin. It leads to damnation!


  5. 3) Accumulating excessive wealth

    For fucksakes, the Pope should stick to sorting out Catholic priests from sodomising young boys.

    The Pope, from time to time begs wealthy nations to donate money & help out poor nations in repaying their debts. He (Pope) should be happy about these 3rd world countries for being too poor because they're not accumulating excessive wealth, which is what he wants.

  6. I find it extraordinary that the Pope doesn't list "murder" as a sin.

    Ayn Rand said "If you take Jesus Christ as an ordinary human being, what do you do with your ideal being? You put him on the Cross, you torture him and murder him for the sake of those who are less virtuous.

    Is that a proper example to set?

  7. Rebel Radius, murder is still a sin.

    The problem is that this list of "new" sins is not actually a list of new sins. Also, neither does it replace the Seven Deadly Sins. They still exist.

    Everyone that's gone off half-cocked on this is guilty of the sin (joke) of not actually researching the topic. I've done a couple of posts about it now and I would suggest that you and your readers come over and have a look so that you don't continue to look like complete fools.


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