More Sin

by Jon Mandle on March 11, 2008

In yet more sin news, according to Bloomberg (and others), the Vatican has updated its list of mortal sins to include “seven social sins”:

1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control
2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research
3. Drug abuse
4. Polluting the environment
5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty

The Times Online observes that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that ‘immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell.’” And while acknowledging that “there is no definitive list of mortal sins,” they provide a list of:

The original offences and their punishments

Pride – Broken on the wheel
Envy – Put in freezing water
Gluttony – Forced to eat rats, toads, and snakes
Lust – Smothered in fire and brimstone
Anger – Dismembered alive
Greed – Put in cauldrons of boiling oil
Sloth – Thrown in snake pits

Interesting, in a that-wacky-Pope kind of way. But their source is a little peculiar: The Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft, by Ernst and Johanna Lehner. They neglect to mention the subtitle: “244 Illustrations for Artists and Craftspeople.”

And the new list seems to suffer from some … um … padding: 5, 6, and 7 are not the same, but if you avoid excessive wealth and don’t create poverty, it seems you’ve got a pretty good jump on not “contributing to widening divide between rich and poor.” Not to mention that number 2. threatens circularity, while “Drug abuse” seems kind of vague to me. Perhaps not the best thought-out list.

But upon further investigation, it’s not clear that the Vatican intended to produce a new list in the first place. According to the AP: “Vatican officials, however, stressed that Girotti’s comments broke no new ground on what constitutes sin.” As far as I can tell, in an interview Bishop Gianfranco Girotti commented: “If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a weight, a resonance, that’s especially social, rather than individual.” And he gave some examples (although I admit to being a little unclear about how they are social in a new way). But it doesn’t seem that he gave seven examples. And, frankly, I can’t even tell if he intended his examples to be of mortal sins. My advice: avoid anything that is “morally dubious” until the situation is clarified.

{ 1 trackback }

Brass Tacks: 14 sins I hear you say? « Peccator Rusticissimus
03.12.08 at 5:20 pm



HH 03.11.08 at 7:48 pm

As the single institution most responsible for encouraging overpopulation, the Vatican will occupy a special place of scorn when historians write the accounts of the inevitable world population crash. It will be the godly men of the Roman Catholic Church who will have the hundreds of millions of deaths from starvation, floods, and war on their consciences.

The inquisition, the support of authoritarian dictatorships, and ultimately the deliberate tilting of the world population into unsustainable catastrophe, these are among the notable “achievements” of the Vatican. History will not treat them kindly.


Keir 03.11.08 at 7:57 pm

The Rev. Ian Paisley seems to have an awful lot of free time on his hands now, doesn’t he?

I mean, he’s trolling Crooked Timber — I guess it’s a step up on trolling NI, but still.


bryan 03.11.08 at 8:52 pm

well, it strikes me that some of the sins also attacks each other since refraining from “Bioethical” violations such as birth control will, in the case of the poor at any rate, contribute to a widening gap between rich and poor. Also buying some of the things one needs to buy in versions that do not pollute the environment can cost more than buying versions that do pollute the environment, so that would seem to also be a self-negating sin.

Can it be that somebody did not think these things through? Nawwww….


bryan 03.11.08 at 8:52 pm

probably shouldn’t call it self-negating sin, but can’t quite come with a phrase that fits.


Russell Arben Fox 03.11.08 at 9:10 pm

…the inevitable world population crash…the deliberate tilting of the world population into unsustainable catastrophe…

Yes, definitely, of course; you just keep your eye out for that. You and Malthus and Paul Ehrlich. Enjoy the wait.


HH 03.11.08 at 9:37 pm

Food and petroleum prices are soaring, and global pollution, deforestation, and desertification are eating away at the inhabitable land area. Super-slums, vast concentrations of urban misery are growing. The depletion of natural resources appears to be accelerating. Thus, a population correction seems inevitable.

I would be delighted to know what miraculous magic the Vatican intends to rely on to maintain indefinite population growth and increasing living standards.


david 03.11.08 at 10:05 pm

Is it okay not to respect the Vatican cause its list is lame?

Somebody had to ask.


Roy Belmont 03.11.08 at 10:26 pm

Of course there’s always Catholic reproductive rates insuring a solid enough demographic block that after your “population correction” occurs there’s a significant amount of Catholics left to propagate that suddenly roomy world.
Seed bank demographics. You did think of that already, right?
Ken Kesey said clearly, though not in these words, back in the 70’s, that the inherent danger of simplistic yapping about over-population is the abetting of an impulse toward conscious selection of appropriate survivors in the dominant majority. Us gadfly outliers find that prospect very unappealing.
He also said specifically that it isn’t the numbers, it’s the way we’re living.
Reducing the amount of people in the world immediately problematic as it is, but without changing much else, merely gets you a smaller population. One still going in the wrong direction.


James 03.11.08 at 10:27 pm

One could fairly easily contribute to inequality without “creating poverty” nor personally enjoying excessive wealth. Politicians are only the most obvious candidates for such sin.


abb1 03.11.08 at 10:47 pm

But doesn’t their facilitating aids epidemic somewhat alleviate the overpopulation problem they create?


Mikhail 03.11.08 at 10:53 pm

I like the #6 – being probably the most wealthy organisation in the world it’s a bit rich of them… (pun intended) :)


Righteous Bubba 03.11.08 at 11:14 pm

And while acknowledging that “there is no definitive list of mortal sins”

You’d think they’d have taken care of that by at least the 8th century of the church’s existence.


Colin Danby 03.12.08 at 12:05 am

It does suggest a contest to come up with a list of corresponding punishments for the new sins.


Jason 03.12.08 at 12:33 am

It does suggest a contest to come up with a list of corresponding punishments for the new sins.

birth control: compelled to take temperature every morning, note relative viscosity of bodily fluids, keep chart detailing such in perpetuity. oh, wait…

stem cell research: forced to edit Conservapedia entries for all eternity

drug abuse: (if cocaine) endless Rummikub match with local Burger King franchisee obsessed with urinary tract infections and Johnny Paycheck
(if pot) Simpsons no longer funny
pollution: stuffed head-first into sleeping bag occupied by King Kong Bundy; last words you hear are “dutch oven”


Jay B. 03.12.08 at 12:54 am

“Vatican officials, however, stressed that Girotti’s comments broke no new ground on what constitutes sin.”

Despite testing for sin or sin-like qualities for the better part of 2000 years, the church’s Sin Labs has yielded little in the way of usable sin vaccines.

“First you have to define sin, then you can work to cure it,” said Giovanni Lapere, the Vatican’s Lab Director. “Unfortunately, quantitatively testing for sin is far more labor-intensive than you might assume. It’s not like you know sin when you see it.”

He pointed out that large scale industrial and man made pollution took nearly 250 years before its waste was deemed “sinful” by the Pope.

“And look at our Pedophilia Project. Very controversial. And it still didn’t make the list.”


Steve Reuland 03.12.08 at 1:42 am

According to the AP: “Vatican officials, however, stressed that Girotti’s comments broke no new ground on what constitutes sin.”

Of course not. What is and isn’t sinful is eternal and cannot change. The Catholic church just has to elaborate here and there and correct some of the ones it previously overlooked, or ignore the ones it previously overemphasized.


Stuart 03.12.08 at 2:36 am

Maybe they should go Catholic 2.0 next and make the “seven social networking sins”.


qb 03.12.08 at 2:38 am

wow and i thought poking fun at Catholicism was passe. i guess the movie Dogma still has an audience after all.

seems like the new list of sins is not more silly (circular, redundant, inconsistent, etc) than say, the list of human rights presently embodied in international law, or, for that matter, any brief synopsis of moral or legal norms.

ditto #7.


geo 03.12.08 at 4:22 am

According to the Baltimore Catechism, a mortal sin is “any grievous offense against the law of God.” If I were still a member of a Catholic religious order, merely logging onto Crooked Timber would be a mortal sin.

The seven “original offenses” listed by the Times (Pride, Envy, Gluttony) are called the capital sins in Catholic moral theology, so named because they are the head (caput) or font from which all other sins spring.


Brandon 03.12.08 at 5:50 am

In yet more sin news, according to Bloomberg (and others), the Vatican has updated its list of mortal sins to include ‘seven social sins'”.

Attribution of actions to “the Vatican” is always a tip-off that the reporter is getting something wrong. What we call “the Vatican” — the Roman Curia — does not (except through the active intervention of the Pope) operate as a unified institution, being a large selection of Congregations, Pontifical Councils (i.e., think tanks), Commissions, Tribunals, and Academies, each of which operates more-or-less independently, answering only to the Pope. If the reporter is keeping his or her facts straight, the report will always very carefully lay out who said it, what part of the Curia they represent and how, and in what context they said it. (The differences can be massive. Congregations, for instance, are authoritative; they are governing bodies. Pontifical Councils, on the other hand, are not authoritative at all; they are think tanks, whose mandate is to encourage beneficial policies and come up with ideas on a particular topic. These have a lot of freedom within their mandate; Tribunals on the other hand tend to be authoritative but have very restricted functions.)

What actually seems to have happened is that someone associated with one of these, namely a tribunal called the Apostolic Penitentiary (primarily the court of appeal for excommunications and dispensations), gave some examples of what he meant by the term ‘social sin’ in an interview. Saying ‘the Vatican is updating a list of sins’ is as utterly absurd and ridiculous as saying that casual examples of commonly violated rights, tossed off by the Deputy Secretary while making a point in an interview, means that the White House is revising the Bill of Rights.

I’m also not at all sure what Bloomberg and AP mean by saying that Girotti is the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary; the head of the Tribunal is the cardinal chief penitentiary, James Francis Stafford. Girotti, as regent, is a second-tier official.


Ethan Straffin 03.12.08 at 8:55 am

The authoritarian leadership of the Catholic Church adore drug prohibition, and are therefore working against their own goals 3 through 7, to varying degrees.

I’ve mostly given up arguing with them. They’re much bigger than me. As an agnostic, I’m working on not letting them turn me off to religion forever.


A. Y. Mous 03.12.08 at 9:27 am

You are such a spoil sport Brandon! There you go pouring water on what is a fundamental non-negotiable inviolate basic human right, second only to God murder (or god Murder. It depends on where you are coming from. Or going to, for that matter). Church Bashing is a scientific, enlightened, urbane, modern, pragmatic and rational birthright. And by God! We shall have it!. We don’t want to get irrational, do we?

Er… Sorry. You were rational. My bad.


Sam C 03.12.08 at 9:32 am

Brandon: thanks, that’s really helpful.


Great Zamfir 03.12.08 at 9:55 am

And now the question: would like your job description to be “Deputy Secretary” or “Cardinal Chief Apostolic Penitentiary”?


ajay 03.12.08 at 10:12 am

Brandon, we’re all very sorry we got confused between all those old, rich men in funny hats.


stet 03.12.08 at 11:03 am

A question: does anybody know if sin applies to corporate personhood?


qb 03.12.08 at 11:16 am

#25 – Catechism’s always the first place to look on questions of Catholic doctrine. it says,

the root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man” (1853, citing Mt. 15: 19-20).


Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them (1868)

this and other passages have a distinctly individualist feel to them. however, note the acknowledgment of cooperative effects–and this is especially germane to the present post and thread:

Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.”

prima facie, looks like final moral responsibility always winds up on individuals and not on the “structures” they inhabit. just a slightly educated guess.


HH 03.12.08 at 12:27 pm

It is absolutely baffling to me that a religion encrusted with dogma and burdened with a bloody history of persecution of thinkers has attracted the loyalty of outstanding individuals like Teilhard de Chardin, T.S. Eliot, and even Ernst Junger. The only explanation I can think of is some kind of bicameral structure of the mind, half temple of reason and half house of dogma.

In an era of equal rights for women, unprecedented discoveries about the structure of life, and astonishing advances in global communications, the efforts of a male-dominated, quasi-celibate Catholic hierarchy to legislate reality for hundreds of millions of people strike me as ludicrous.


Steve LaBonne 03.12.08 at 12:34 pm

Good thing they didn’t put “stupidity” on the list, or they’d all be going to hell for sure.


qb 03.12.08 at 1:30 pm

oh snap. on the other hand it’s not clear how far people can be held responsible for stupidity. “bigotry” on the other hand might warrant inclusion.


richard 03.12.08 at 3:21 pm

re 7: who knew they read Crooked Timber, and would come up with a riposte to the whole abstract ‘respect’ debate so deftly?


The Modesto Kid 03.12.08 at 5:40 pm

How can something be asserted to be sinful and simultaneously be called “morally dubious”? If something is sinful its morality cannot by definition be in question.


bi 03.12.08 at 5:46 pm

Jay B. scripsit:

“Despite testing for sin or sin-like qualities for the better part of 2000 years, the church’s Sin Labs has yielded little in the way of usable sin vaccines.”

I’m imagining some kind of scientific journal whose archives are being maintained in the hallowed halls of the Vatican Palace. Alas, it’s probably going to be written in lingua latina, which’ll be a shame because the stuff’s highly likely to be better than the crud we get from Answers Research Journal.


engels 03.12.08 at 8:51 pm

5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty

So Britain´s most powerful God botherer is going to spending quite a few millenia in the snake pit. It almost makes you want to believe in all that crap…


Danny Yee 03.14.08 at 11:14 am

I would have included spamming in any list of “social sins”.


Ted 03.14.08 at 9:36 pm

Hmmm. What if I consider Catholicism “morally dubious”?

Comments on this entry are closed.