From Virtue to Vice (part 3)

We now come to the 7 Vices, which have become virtues in the modern day. These are the things that traditionally have been viewed as the seven major categories for sin; though there are multiple sins, they can generally fit within one of these seven categories (and all fall under pride).

1)   Extravagance/ Lust – this is the sin of pursuing money and things at any cost; it likewise deals with excessive sexual encounters. Though money is good when used properly and sex is wonderful when done between a man and a wife, when money is used improperly or sex is taken away from its purpose, both become evil. It is wrong to pursue wealth because it violates the virtues. It is wrong to give into lust because it shows a lack of self-control and love for the other person. It shows a love for the person lusting, but shows a lack of love toward God and the object of lust, which violates the chief of the virtues.

How has extravagance/lust become a virtue? We have people who are building multi-million dollar homes for their own sake, to simply say they have it. We have people who are engaging in sexual activities for their own reputations. The “American Dream” is now owning a huge mansion and not having to work. People generally use their money for themselves, owning multiple planes, etc. How clearly we remember the CEO’s of the American automakers flying in on their private jets to their Congressional meetings saying their companies lacked money. Those who don’t buy goods, who don’t spend their money, who refuse to fall in debt are often looked upon as “unpatriotic” because they’re failing to keep up the American economy.


Or what about lust? How many politicians have had illicit affairs? What’s more is that the media seemingly expects such affairs to occur. Infidelity is not only expected to occur within marriages, in some situations it’s encouraged. If not within marriage, certainly outside of marriage lust is encouraged. We encourage our teenagers to have sex. If anyone is sixteen-years-old and a virgin, we baffle at such an idea. Once the person is eighteen, we begin to mock him or her for being a virgin. To be a virgin, to not give into lust, is to be weird. Chastity is a vice in our culture.


To take this further, anyone who points out that lust is wrong is not only laughed at, but hated in our society. If you point out that homosexuality is wrong because it’s two men or two women allowing their lust to get the best of them, then you are intolerant. If you tell a young man and young woman not to engage in a one-night stand, then you’re “forcing your values on other people.” To promote chastity or purity is to go against the “American virtue of lust.”


2)   Gluttony – this is the sin of eating too much or leaving too much left over. I’ve worked in restaurants or around food for as long as I can remember. One commonality is that whenever there is too much food left over, it tends to get thrown away. We’re talking pans full of food. Rather than take that food to people who need it, it simply gets thrown out. Alternatively, I’ve watched people come in and eat meal upon meal for themselves. They’re grossly overweight and will eat and continue to eat. This shows a love for food, a love that they cannot control. If we are controlled by anything other than love, then we are sinning. Likewise, in our excess, we withhold food from the poor.

How has gluttony become a virtue? I need only point to American television to prove my point. We make contests out of eating. We have such a high standard of living that we actually have to go on diets and abstain from food.


But gluttony has become a virtue in many ways. To the girl who orders a lot of food, but only eats a little and thus wastes it, we applaud her for staying skinny. Or to the millionaire who spends thousands of dollars on food, but gets nothing for the hungry in his city or around the world, we think, “I wish I could eat like him.” We’re always in pursuit of food that is better, tastier, fatter, etc. It’s not wrong to like good food, but in America we take it further. We make a lot of it and waste a lot of it.


3)   Greed – this is different from extravagance in that this is all about hording your money and being cut throat in making sure no one makes as much as you do. One doesn’t have to be rich to be greedy. We can hoard what we have, we can covet what other people have, and in so doing we become greedy. We are holding onto material things that will not last and ultimately are not our own.

How has greed become a virtue? It’s expected for a CEO to lay off employees while not cutting his bonuses or for a singer to charge absurd amounts of money to get into his concert. As per the line from the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good.” There’s a reason that the Harvard Business School cut out “business ethics” from its curriculum; one cannot be ethical and greedy, and under pragmatic Capitalism (as opposed to a virtue based Capitalism) one has to embrace greed in order to be successful.


We teach our children to do whatever they can to get money. “Get rich or die trying” is a motto that is instilled into them. To teach the importance of being content, of being happy with what you have, is a vice in our culture. In fact, I remember growing up being told in school that we should never be happy with what we have, because that leads to us becoming complacent and therefore lazy. We must be greedy in order to be good within American society.


4)   Acedia/Slothfulness – this is the sin of simply not caring, being apathetic, and being lazy. It’s the overall attitude of, “I’ll do it tomorrow” or, “I just don’t care right now.” It’s the idea of seeing a problem that you can fix or at least help fix, but opting not to do a thing about it because you’d rather sit around and do something “more fun.” People who lament having to work hard to get what they want or who look at problems and say, “I don’t care enough to get involved” often find themselves under this sin.

How has acedia/slothfulness become a virtue? Sadly, this is a common “virtue” in American society. Though it is certainly possible to overwork and thus neglect your family and friends (violating the primary virtue of love), most Americans suffer from working hard enough. We envy those who get to sleep all day. For most Americans, after working just eight hours with minimal physical force, we’re ready to take a nap.


In American society, a hard worker simply isn’t valued. Other people on a job hate hard workers because if someone is working hard, then everyone has to work hard. It’s acceptable to only put a half-effort into the job.


Likewise, Americans just don’t care about the world. Sure, we put up signs and wear T-shirts that remind us of Darfur, but how many “aware” students have actually done anything to help with the crisis in Sudan? How many, if given the opportunity, would help? A lot of people in my generation lament the social conditions that the poor have to live in within America, but how many will go to homeless shelters and help out? Not very many. Why is this? Because it’s acceptable to be lazy in America; in fact, if you’re a hard worker, you’re just not valued.


5)   Wrath – this is extreme anger that often leads to acting outside of the judicial system (vigilante justice) or the strong desire for personal vengeance. It’s immediately reacting to a perceived wrong with absolute anger. Though one can certainly lose one’s cool, wrath causes one to sit on the anger and think it over and over. It forces one to desire not only justice, but the means to carry out that justice, with or without the law. It is pure hatred.

How has wrath become a virtue? Of all the vices, this one does remain a vice for the most part. However, there are elements of wrath that have been accepted as a virtue. For instance, the idea that we can take the law into our own hands and change the law has entered the mind of many American judges. When they try to create laws from the bench, they are engaging in a sort of wrath (disdain for the judicial process) by ignoring the fact that they are only to interpret the law, not create it.


On a more common level, most people in the “ghetto-culture” believe that “street justice” is superior to governmental justice. They are encouraged to take their vengeance out upon any perceived perpetrators. To wait for the law or to remain calm is considered a vice.


6)   Envy – this is the sin of wanting what another person has and also wanting that person to be deprived of that same object or lifestyle. This is must broader than greed, which generally deals with money. This can apply to a lifestyle, to wanting the wife and family of another person while having that person deprived of those people. It’s wanting fame and recognition that is due to someone else, but having that person denied that recognition. It’s wanting what doesn’t belong to you, what you haven’t earned.

How has envy become a virtue? Envy is a virtue in modern America in that we’re told to look at certain role models and work toward what they have. It’s not wrong to have role models; it is wrong to make those role models the rich, the famous, and the well off and wish to not only have what they have, but do better than them. It’s like a basketball star who says, “Not only will I have what Michael Jordan had, but I’ll be so good people will forget about him.” Such statements of bravado are encouraged within our culture.


The Democrats wanted what the Republicans had and wanted the Republicans to be deprived. Now the tables are reversed. No one has thought to accuse either side of envy and that both sides are utterly wrong in their motives and approaches to politics. The reason we’ve never thought of it that way is because envy is just a part of our culture; it’s good to have envy because it’s seen as a “motivator.”


7)   Pride – this is the ultimate vice. Just as love for God and love for humanity is the chief of all virtues, pride is the chief of all vices. Pride is self-love. It is placing yourself over everyone else. It puts the person at the center of the person’s universe. Every act of vice above begins with pride because pride is the beginning of all sin. Adam and Eve tasted of the fruit because of pride; they wanted to be like God. Judas betrayed Christ out of pride; he puts his desire for wealth before Christ’s desire for humanity. Pride, no matter how small, is pure evil and will lead to other sins.

How has pride become a virtue? We’re told to “look out for #1.” In America, it’s an acceptable stance to put ourselves first.

I read a story about how a woman left her husband and children to be with another woman. Multiple people called her “courageous”. Why is this? Because we are a people of pride we think it “courageous” that she put herself before her family. We tell people to give into the desires of their hearts. This is telling people to be prideful and to act prideful.

We raise our children to be concerned with their “self-esteem.” Teachers must refrain from certain actions because it could hurt a child’s “self-esteem.” Of course, most of the time the truth is that low self-esteem is just good common sense. But we live in a prideful culture, so my previous statement will rub many people the wrong way. Why? Because it points out we shouldn’t be prideful. We should value ourselves, value who we are, value what we can contribute, and put ourselves first, because to modern Americans that is virtuous.

This is the culture we live in. We live in a culture that has turned virtue into vice and vice into virtue. So what can be done?