All folks are gathered at the intersection of transformational change, and each person there possesses an amazing capacity for the phenomenon of evil as well as an astounding capacity for excellence of character and goodness. Early philosophers and prophets recognized these history-altering capacities, and wrote to enlighten the minds and give wisdom to their followers. The teachings and stories of Jesus, while he was on earth, are packed full of revelations regarding the battles of vice vs. virtue.
Plato, Aristotle, and later, the church leaders, like the monk Evagrius Ponticus, John Cassian, and even Pope Gregory, endeavored to formulate into lists examples of the deadliest of evil thoughts and sins. Tinkering with the list never stops, but the following list is a fine compilation of what has been considered over the centuries the most sinister and dangerous of vices . . .
THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
Carnal lechery or lust is a general term for an inordinate and intense desire to fulfill not only the need for things of a sexual nature, but also power, fame, money, or even food.
Taken from the Latin gluttire, depicting the gulping down or swallowing food excessively, but it also refers to gluttony, or Latin gula, as in the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste.
Here is another attitudinal and behavioral sin of excess sometimes referred to as avarice or even covetousness. Usually greed is linked with the idea of a rapacious desire for material things in contrast to eternal values, and is connected to the violation of someone else’s value, rights, or dignity.
While sloth (Latin, acedia) has been explained differently over the years, it still basically refers to physical and spiritual laziness. When a person fails to develop spiritually, an attitude and behavior of rejection of God and grace takes place. Evil is said to exist where a person resists doing what should be done and when good men fail to act.
Rage (Latin, ira) is considered to be uncontrolled hatred or anger and can demonstrate itself by violence and revenge that can even be passed on to future generations, or can manifest itself in self-destruction and suicide. The attitude and behavior of wrath rejects the provisions of God’s gifts.
Envy is another sin of insatiable desire. It demands to be better and have more than others. The want is so strong that it will seek to deprive others of what they have, be it material things, abilities, status, recognition, or rewards.
One thing that most all lists agree upon is that the matter of pride is at the heart and center of all other deadly sins. It is at the root because it demands that it is first and best and all others and all else is secondary. In today’s vernacular the expression would be, “It’s all about me.” With unchecked pride there is no need to consider anyone else, not even God. Where pride is in control the entrenched narcissism shouts that “I am not just privileged and exceptional, but above all . . . entitled.”
THE SEVEN CARDINAL VIRTUES
Throughout history, good men who have had concern for the betterment of their culture and a sincere desire to help other people be better off have endeavored to examine, and also teach, what they considered to be the fundamentals of goodness as a counter to the Seven Deadly Sins. It has been agreed upon by Christian thinkers, as well as many pagan philosophers, that virtue is the key building block of a successful life as well as a successful civilization. The behavioral consideration ofvices vs. virtue is at the very heart of the study of cultural economics.
The phenomenon of moral and wholesome character has been promoted by Plato, Aristotle, and other great philosophers and church leaders. Their desire is to protect not only the people standing on the curbside of the intersection, but also to protect the outcome of the flow of the traffic through that intersection of culture and economics. What happens at the intersection of culture and economics influences and shapes civilizations.
It should be of little surprise, then, that over the centuries righteous thinkers have also constructed lists of virtuous attributes intended to answer the influence of thedeadly sins:
Abstaining from inordinate or improper sexual conduct according to one's state in life. Embracing purity of thought and behavior and achieving moral wholesomeness of character. Living a clean life of good health and hygiene promoted by cleanliness and restraint from indulgence of intoxicants, and avoiding temptation and corruption.
Restraint and self-control. Prudence in regard to appropriate behavior, and proper moderation in the indulgence of natural appetites, passions, and especially in the use of drugs and alcohol.
Generosity and self sacrifice, benevolent attitudes and actions, especially toward those in need or in disfavor.
Steadfastness and persistence in accomplishing that which is undertaken; zealous and constant endurance in the effort to always guard against laziness of body, mind, and spirit, fulfilling the degree of care and concern required even when no one else is watching.
Moderation through forbearance and perspective, a willingness to solve injustices and conflicts peacefully instead of choosing violence as an answer to conflict resolutions, the ability to bear delay, provocation, or misfortune without cluttering the situation with reactions of temper, irritation, or complaint.
Thoughtful consideration, empathy, and accommodation displayed with a friendly demeanor and without prejudice, resentment, or ill will toward the recipient, a spirit of magnanimity combined with compassion and cheerfulness.
Humility is everything that pride is not. It is a frank and modest estimate or opinion of one’s own importance, rank, or position, while invoking respect, honor, and value upon the position and person of another, it is the spirit of perceiving the correct value and relationship between you, God, and the world that God has created.
Origen, a second century teacher from Alexandria, insisted, “Genuine transformation of life comes from reading the ancient Scriptures, learning who the just men and women were and imitating them.”1 That would be his suggestion for the building of viable traditions that would eventually be nourished and supported by institutions.
Both Greek and Roman writers pushed the idea that the acquiring of virtue would be immensely aided by imitating the noble example of others. Seneca claimed, “Plato, Aristotle, and the whole throng of sages . . . derived more benefit from the character than from the words of Socrates. The way is long if one follows precepts, but short and accommodating if one imitates examples.”
In the third century, Augustine, then Bishop of Hippo, really cleared up the issue of invoking the practice of imitating in order to acquire traits of virtue: “Now we require many virtues and from these virtues we advance to virtue itself. What virtue, you inquire? I reply: Christ, the very virtue and wisdom of God. He gives diverse virtues here below, and he will also supply the one virtue, namely himself, for all of the other virtues which are useful and necessary in this vale of tears.”2
(Please allow me to end with this personal note: Regardless of the ancient writers, I find that I am not a very good imitator. But what became a great help to me regarding this battle between vice and virtue was my discovery of a possibility while reading the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul talked about “Christ in me . . . my only hope of glory.”(Col. 1:27) And then I read on and found that the Holy Spirit was eager to enter into me and begin living the life of Jesus Christ through me to the glory of God the Father. (Corinth. Galat. Ephe.) That made a whole lot of sense to me because it would be God’s virtue in me instead of me trying to trump up something of my own. It seems to have worked well, at least for this pilgrim who finds himself standing on the curbside of the intersection of culture and economics.)
Next Week: Scrooge, Jacob Marley & Business
(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson's new writing project on Cultural Economics)
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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