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What's Our Favorite Deadly Sin?

I was awash in food at a wedding reception this weekend and it reminded me of an endless dinner I experienced in Munich once (in the Englisher Garten) of large whole chickens, mountains of sausages, and yard long steins of beer. I came away from that experience convinced that if Germany has a favorite national deadly sin, it is probably Gluttony. I used to think that the French's sin should be Lust until I visited England often enough to see that France pales in that area these days. So France gets Pride in my book.But what about the US? Can it be anything other than Greed? In Matthew Boudway's thread below, judging from the comments, it would almost seem that we have enshrined greed as a virtue to the extent that some people almost claim that to suggest that the rich are greedy is to show that onemust begreedy oneself (not that there is anything wrong with that).So. Do countries (or civilizations) tend to promote one deadly sin or others in its character? If so, should the US be the Land of the Greedy? If not, how do we define and distinguish greed in a greedy land like the United States?


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Avarice, a word that's generally used in capital sin talk is truly a problem here.A great priest I knew said the pronlem was people could never answer the question,"How much is enough?"Instead, many were like seals at the aquarium - throw them a fish and, slurp, they just want more.The outcome in his colorful phrase was inevitably "selfish fuckery,"

Judging by our educational performance, perhaps it should be Ignorance :-(

I'd think France's is Envy, btw

Sloth.It accounts for the decline of our education system. Easier to denounce learning than to achieve it. Politicians can deny evolution and get away with it, revise history and get away with it, etc., etc. People on t.v. are too lazy to do the homework required to conduct an interview, so they don't challenge the lies told by lying liars. In the Catholic Church, it accounts for the decline of preaching, good music, etc., etc.

BTW, what's the capital sin for the Vatican?

Vatican: Pride, the deadliest of all.

Seeing as how the USA can find its human roots in all corners of the globe, I think we can lay claim to being the one country that prefers ALL the deadly sins --- perhaps to a degree that no other country would even want to come close!We're the greatest!!!(btw, Jeanne, i think you are "right on target")

"In Matthew Boudways thread below,"Where below?I do not see anything which meets this description.In the USA, most seem to have elevated capitalism from a mere description of an economic mode to an ideology which they believe is necessary for democracy. Capitalism as an ideology goes beyond identifying greed as an economic motive to instead praise it as the power behind all economic progress. This mis-identification of conditions with ideals makes greed into a virtue for Aynn Rand and similarly inhumane individualists. All sense of community is lost. All sense of government as useful for doing things that are difficult for individuals and subsidiary organizations is denied. It is a profoundly un-Christian approach to society, denying all social responsibilities and repercussions. By raising greed and ruthlessness to the status of virtue, the charitable, meek, and just are condemned as weak instead of admired as virtuous. So, I agree that the defining American vice is greed, rationalized by ideological capitalism, although JJ has a point in saying that our national need to be number one defines the USA, even when it costs us international prestige and multi-millions of dollars and tens of thousands of combat casualties.

Not listed as one of the seven deadlies, but our national sin is Selfishness.

Ignorance isn't a sin. Thank God for that, or we'd all be Hell bound.

OK, what is Commonweal's characteristic sin?



I'd go with Pride, for the US, beating out Avarice by a narrow margin, and as Jeanne Follman points out, pride lies behind all other sins. American exceptionalism (at least as many seem to interpret that term) stems from pride (the City on a Hill, etc.), and we still seem to enjoy telling lesser breeds without the law how to order their affairs in order to Be More Like US.

"Ignorance isnt a sin."What?! Wasn't that Mrs. Howell? Or was that Gilligan?

I think wrath is the neglected sin. Maybe if it were called "anger" it would get the attention it should.True, not all anger is bad (think righteous anger), but a lot is. I think snarkiness is a variety, and it has become habitual in this country. We're the worse for it.

Dick Chaney said it well when he pushed and got the tax cut for the one percent: "We deserve it." That from a guy who grew up not so well off. It is our fault because we respect money more than anything and talk more to people who have money than those who do not. Greed is number one without a doubt. The words of the pope and many Christians are similar to Benedict addressing the coming World Youth Day: Entrust yourselves to prayer, in order to obtain the abundance of a fruitful Christian life. Those are the words but the deeds by the Vatican with its massive wealth and Christians who regard wealth as God's blessing is that the fruitful life is in material things which the poor and the middle class are to lazy to get.

Religiosity and Churchianity. (Yes, I know - that's 2 and they aren't in the usual list)

Ah, yes. The massive wealth of the Vatican -- whose annual budget is about $400 million dollars, which is 1/9000 or 0.01 percent of the $3.6 trillion budget of the United States federal government, which wins the GREED award hands down.Yes, greed is one of the favorites.

Bender, you have no idea. Let's just leave it at that.

Ann,You are quite right about anger. Jesus compared it to murder. It is the most approved of Christian actions. The Crusades are the prime example of that. Death of the other rather than death for the other as Jesus showed.

I loved Lovey and Thurston Howell. Jim Bacus was one of the funniest guys ever, even on one of the stupidest TV shows ever. Remember that time he was running for president of Gilligan's Island and Mrs. Howell decided to vote for the Skipper. "But Lovey!" Thurston remonstrated. "We've always been RePUBlicans!"

Today, the deadly sin of the t is indeed pride, the opposite of humility, as evidenced by the clergy sex abuse scandal has been handled.Not so many centuries ago (15th, 16th centuries) Lust would have to be the number #1 cardinal sin.

Revision:Today, the deadly sin of the the Vatican is indeed Pride, the opposite of humility, as evidenced by the way that the clergy sex abuse scandal has been handled.Not so many centuries ago (15th, 16th centuries) Lust would have to be the number #1 cardinal sin.

I agree with Ann. The early desert solitaries numbered anger as one of the worst sins because it smouldered in the soul blinding motives for all other activities. Given the parlous state of politics today and the anger found so common among the chattering class on these websites I think wrath(ira) tops my list.

I still have to go with avarice for the United States. Everything here is commoditized and almost all human decisions are cast as "investments" requiring a quantitative return. We don't buy houses, cars, or get educations; we invest in all these things. Poor people are people who have made poor investment decisions and therefore deserve to be punished. Rich people are people who have made good investment decisions and therefore deserve to be rewarded. Even religion tends to be viewed as a tangible investment in the after life.

Maybe it's time for the Church to dump the seven deadly sins. Has anyone ever gone to confession for having committed avarice or acedia? Ever hear a sermon on gluttony? On wine-bibbing?Anger has survival value. Saying fight-or-flight responses are sinful is like saying blue eyes or homosexuality are instrinsically disordered. Jesus was accused of being a wine-bibber and a glutton. As our knowledge of evolution evolves, so should our definitions of sin. Is smoking a sin? Pope Pius X was a smoker. John Paul II was not. Does Benedict XVI smoke?

The old song truly says there's a thin kine between love and hate.When love is betrayed, anger(even smoldering) can set in, but blaming the angry one and not the betrayer misses the dynamic of what happened.

Speaking of poor people and decision making, here's a fascinating article in the NYT about decision making -- and temptation. It seems making decisions for 3-4 hours a day (as we seem to do) can wear us out psycholocally without our even being aware of it. The poor, having fewer options, have to work harder at making good decisions, which, apparently can wear them out faster. Weariness from making decisionscan lead them -- and us -- into temptation. The article is accessible at:

"Ever hear a sermon on gluttony?"Yes. It was very good. It was about how we sometimes overfeed our bodies and starve our spirits.

We're eager to attribute badness to people and organizations we dislike. How about turning that around on ourselves? Goose and gander. Humility?

AS to the uS, I think the consensus is gred -except for those who are greedy.

Let me put in a good word for greed --Many, many people work hard so they can afford "the finer things of life" and those "woosh moments" we talked about a while back. They're seeking beauty, even when they think that the transcendent Beauty they long for does not exit. In effect are trying to buy a God. They are not resigned to the fact that, as the poet Wallace Stevens puts it, "The imperfect is our paradise". I wouldn't call such people any greedier than us believers.

Within the traditional catalogue of sins, no doubt "greed" is the dominant trait of our culture here in the U.S. - Yet the much greater problem seems to be that our society -- being built around the principle of self-interest, primitive accumulation, and possessive individualism -- no longer has a conception of sin at all. Extending and radicalizing the tenets of Classical Liberalism preached by the Scottish Enlightenment (or, more crudely, by Defoe, Mandeville, and Paine), contemporary U.S. culture interprets avarice not as sin but as an inalienable "right," to be claimed and exercised at will and without any corresponding obligation. Isn't that the essence of sin -- to perpetrate an action willfully, yet without ensuring that our practices serve a meaningful and sustainable end? Hence I see a deep connection between avarice and (willful) ignorance.

Yes. It was very good. It was about how we sometimes overfeed our bodies and starve our spirits.---------Hi, Jean:Front-page article in the NYT today about how the Baptists are preaching about good nutrition.

Thomas P. --About our having no sense of sin at all -- good point, sadly. It irritates the life out of me when someone calls an egregious sin or moral failure "a mistake". Oh, we might think we need forgiveness for our "mistakes", but we're quite prepared to give it to ourselves. Sheesh.

I don't think Americans are any more greedy than the rest of the world; we're just more effective at realizing our desires.

"I dont think Americans are any more greedy than the rest of the world; were just more effective at realizing our desires."But at other people's expense. That's what makes us special.

U, this is a capitalist society. Life here is not a zero-sum game. If I acquire a television set, that doesn't mean someone else has to go without one.

"Life here is not a zero-sum game."David--I agree with you, but I think this is a fundamental view of life, not just the American economy. There are people who fundamentally, even violently, disagree with us, and sometimes I think this difference in outlook is the root of all our differences.For my money, if America has a deadly sin, it's impatience.

Nobody has mentioned envy. I think there's a lot of that in the U.S., partly because so many of us have so much, and we can't help want all the good we possibly. can. But envy is something more than just wanting the good things our neighbor has. There's a certain meanness about envy -- a sort of "If I can't have what you have, then I'll see to it when I can that you won't either". It's a particularly nasty sin, and it can lead to some nasty politics.

My personal favorite for time immemorial: lust.