There are no human beings immune to the seven deadly sins. We are all subject to their encompassing natures at times, and while we can do our best not to fall victim to them, from time to time they will inevitably get the better of us. Our task, therefore, is to be aware of these vices, how they manifest in ourselves and others, and develop strategies for overcoming them in healthy and productive ways.
In her book, DeYoung proffers that “we can think of pride as the root and trunk of a tree, which extends upward into seven main branches, each of which represents one capital vice.” These branches on the pride tree are envy, vainglory, sloth, avarice, anger, gluttony, and lust. So, in essence, there are eight vices, but pride is found in all of them and is in fact the root (and trunk) of each.
Some of the insights in this book were surprising to me and some were not. Lust, for example, is pretty straight forward; we all have the human desire for sexual satisfaction. But, when we choose a sexual partner for the sole purpose of self-gratification, we are lustful. Typically this vice fades as one grows older in life and the desire for sex gets overshadowed by the desire for a deeper emotional connection. That’s what has been happening to me, anyhow, and has been confirmed by my peers and also a handful of older relatives.
Sloth, on the other hand, was considerably more surprising to me. Whereas I had always thought of it in terms of physical laziness (watching tv all day and eating junk food), DeYoung writes about how “this discipline is about not running away from what you’re called to be and do—whether through busyness at work or through imaginative diversions—but rather accepting and staying committed to your true spiritual vocation and identity and whatever it requires.” This definition struck me as interesting, because it goes a layer deeper, examining the inner workings of a slothful person. Sloth, it turns out, is about spiritual laziness and a lack of motivation towards meaning in one’s life. It is a laziness that emanates from the inside, and while it often manifests itself as physical laziness, it can also be found in any of the numerous ways human beings knowingly avoid their responsibilities. When we ignore the little voice in the back of our minds telling us what we know we need to hear, and choose to do other activities instead, whether they be channel surfing or real surfing, we are giving in to our slothful nature.
Anger (wrath) is another interesting one to touch on. It comes in two parts, (if you’ve read my review of Martha Nussbaum’s The Monarchy of Fear then you already know this) and must be carefully parsed out. Anger the emotion is important, as it is paramount to identifying and exposing injustices in the world. Anger for the sake of revenge is equally important to identify, specifically so as not to act on. We all should desire to live in a just and equal society and we would do well to remember that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
The connective tissue of these sins is their growth from the inside out. When we plant our pride front and center and it is the only thing we water, these vices will rule us. Pride always puts ourselves above others. In Envy, we want what others have and we want them not to have it. In Vainglory, we want the recognition and applause of others without doing the work to earn it. In Anger, we want to exact revenge on those who have wronged us and assert what we see as just punishment. In Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust, we want what we want and screw everybody else. But “both our independence and our need to define and create a false happiness for ourselves are telltale hallmarks of pride.” DeYoung writes, and later continues: “We most readily recognize pride in its arrogant forms: the person who…thinks he can handle things just fine on his own, who snubs advice and counsel because he knows best what is good for himself, and who shuns dependence on anyone else as unnecessary weakness.” And therein lies the antidote to when we find ourselves subjected to our prideful impulses: taking our attention off of ourselves. For some people, that means getting closer to God. For others, it manifests itself in meaningful connections with peers, neighbors, and loved ones. Life was not meant to be lived alone in a selfish, prideful manner. It is meant to be shared and celebrated together with others. This is how we can conquer wrath with forgiveness (love your enemy like you love yourself), avarice with magnanimity (love hard work), and lust with love for a significant other. You’ve heard it a thousand times before, and here you’ll hear it again: love conquers all—just make sure to balance the love of self with all those other types of love too.