There may be seven deadly sins but even though dead is dead, three of them – anger, greed and lust – seem more deadly than the rest. The other four – pride, envy, gluttony and sloth – can be killers, too, but are often more self-contained and corrosive. The more terrible threesome, though, by their very nature almost always impact others, often in tragic ways.
Anger comes with being human, living in an imperfect world, and judging self and others by their shortcomings. It is the core of violence, hate and racism, all of which pollute minds and cultures across the globe. Often warranted in our human condition, anger only complicates and rarely solves what triggers it. At its best anger can be an early warning system for what needs fixing. Even then it needs to be consciously controlled lest it becomes rage.
Rage is anger gone wild, a destructive madness that finds regrets only in its aftermath by those who survive.
Greed is a driven need for wealth, status and power that uses and abuses others to sate itself. It is a compulsion that finds no meaning in the word “enough.” “More” is the mantra of the greedy. Their ego believes identity and life’s meaning depends on their possessions, success and power.
Greed becomes deadly when one’s wanting loses sight of the wider world, when conscience becomes unconscious to laws and the rights and needs of others, when self and what it feeds on is all that matters. Greed at its worst distorts and ignores the boundaries of morality to satisfy its self-absorbing compulsions. There is no more vivid example, though there are many others in every dimension of society, than organized crime.
Lust, the third sin, also focuses on power and control. Its cravings clearly abuse and degrade the meaning of human sexuality and the value of others. The power and intensity of sexual pleasure can be as blinding as rage and greed, obliterating moral sanity and the responsibilities that come with the gift. Uncontrolled lust is its own disease, expressing rage and even hate, pushing the limits of pleasure well beyond that pleasure’s purpose.
Lust, like any appetite, takes measure of a person’s discipline. Rape is the act of uncaged lust; abuse, the violation of vulnerability or innocence. Both kinds of lust scar and often kill the human spirit if not life as well.
These three sins and so many others permeate our lives. The media’s dark stories of wars’ obscenities, suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, capitalistic greed, political corruption, human trafficking and sexual abuse offer more than enough evidence of our need, still, to learn to respect the gift of life rather than trash it.
If “what you give is what you get,” mindfulness, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness – and love itself – can be life-giving, life-saving virtues that disarm even these worst of sins.