The Eighth Sin

Remember the seven cardinal sins? You’re given the serious task of adding a new one to the list — another trait or behaviour you find particularly unacceptable, for whatever reason. What’s sin #8 for you? Why?

Apparently a Jesuit priest recently did a study of the most common deadly sin confessed to. Men and women apparently differ in this, as in most things. Men most commonly confess to Lust, and women to Pride. I always suspect that when people do admit to a weakness it’s likely to be one that reflects on them in a good light. It’s a bit like that pair of questions Human Resources like to throw out at job interviews:

What are your greatest strengths? What are your greatest weaknesses?

Both of them are a trap. Greatest strengths – yes, you can list them (ensuring that by some strange coincidence they are just what Hattie from HR or Hattie’s boss is looking for) but you run the risk of coming over as an obnoxious bighead with an inflated sense of his/her own importance. Greatest weaknesses is the real killer. You have to concoct something which might be construed as weakness but is actually a strength when turned on its head: something vomitous like “I am much more experienced at using Microsoft Word compared to Powerpoint but I am planning to train myself in my spare time so I can get up to speed with it” is recommended. Ohhhh… how glad I am I don’t have to toady my way through job interviews nowadays.

So it is with Deadly Sins. A man confessing to Lust – well, what red-blooded man hasn’t lusted? For a man to confess to Lust is tantamount to saying “I’m virile, I am! I’m a bit of a lad!” For a woman to confess to Pride – well, basically she’s saying “I’m saintly, really. I’m so terribly aware of my sins that really, underneath, I’m ever so ‘umble”.

In the same way, it is said that your deepest faults tend to be revealed by the appalling things you are perfectly happy to admit – those views it wouldn’t even occur to you to hide, the prejudices you assume that, naturally, the other person will share.

So you might say that the Eighth Deadly Sin is Stupidity or – to define it more narrowly, since a genuinely dim person is not being dim on purpose – a lack of scrupulosity, a failure to think, a failure to examine, or even allow mind-space for, alternative views. It’s the assumption that you must be right because, after all, you are you. How could you be wrong? I read somewhere else that a fool knows he’s clever, whereas a wise man becomes increasingly aware of his own vast ignorance the longer he lives. I wish I could find the exact quote but Internet Explorer is – as ever – not responding.

Someone once told me, in the days when I used to go to chapel of a Sunday that Pride was the greatest sin of all, encompassing all the other sins, because Pride gives you a sense of entitlement – of being on a level with God. I am entitled to that man’s wife; I am entitled to eat or drink myself into an early grave if I want to; I am entitled to a luxury holiday in the Bahamas – I’m worth it; I can’t be bothered – it’s not my responsibility; it makes me so angry when people treat me (of all people) like that…

To draw up the threads this rambling post – I keep thinking about that James Stephens poem In The Poppy Field, in which he seems to be saying that Money is the greatest evil, and Work the deadliest sin. Not the greatest of poems, perhaps, but one that’s hard to forget:

poppy field

Mad Patsy said, he said to me, / That every morning he could see / An angel walking on the sky; / Across the sunny skies of morn / He threw great handfuls far and nigh / Of poppy seed among the corn; / And then, he said, the angels run / To see the poppies in the sun.

A poppy is a devil weed, / I said to him – he disagreed; / He said the devil had no hand / In spreading flowers tall and fair / Through corn and rye and meadow land, / by garth and barrow everywhere: / The devil has not any flower, / But only money in his power.

And then he stretched out in the sun / And rolled upon his back for fun: / He kicked his legs and roared for joy / Because the sun was shining down: / He said he was a little boy / And would not work for any clown: / He ran and laughed behind a bee, / And danced for very ecstasy.

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