The Seven Deadly Sins Today
102 pages

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102 pages

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Sin, like death, is an unassailable fact of life. It is also one of the last great taboos for public debate. In this compelling book, the Henry Fairlie shows that it is possible and necessary to talk about sin in ways that enrich our societies and our personal lives. Fairlie relates these ancient sins to the central issues of contemporary life: liberal vs. conservative politics, discrimination, pornography, abortion, the vistas of modern science, and especially the pop-psychologies that confirm the narcissism of our age.



Publié par
Date de parution 30 novembre 2015
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9780268079789
Langue English

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Paperback published in 1979 by
University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556
All Rights Reserved Manufactured in the United States of America Reprinted in 1988, 1995, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010 Hardback edition published in 1978 by New Republic Books 1220 Nineteenth Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036 Copyright © 1978 by Henry Fairlie Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Fairlie, Henry, 1924– The seven deadly sins today. Reprint of the ed. published by New Republic Books, Washington. Bibliography: p. 1. Deadly sins. I. Title. [BV4626.F34 1979]241'.379-893 ISBN 13: 978-0268-01698-2 ISBN 10: 0-268-01698-4 -->
E-ISBN: 978-0-268-07978-9 ∞ This book is printed on acid-free paper. -->
This eBook was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor.
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This book is for Betty and Bob who have followed the paths of love better than most.
AS OF NO other book that I have written, people have asked why I chose to write on the subject. The origin of the essays is clear in my own mind. I have for a long time thought that the psychological explanations of the waywardness of our own behavior and the sociological explanations of the evils of our societies have come very nearly to a dead end. They have taken us so far, but not very far, and it is hard to see, in whatever direction they may move, that they will take us much farther. They have come to this impasse because they shirk the problem of evil, and they shirk it because of the major premise on which they rest: that our own faults and those of our societies are the result of some kind of mechanical failure, which has only to be diagnosed and understood for us to set it right. Yet none of the schemes for improvement, personal or social, have made much difference, and some would even say that they have made things worse.
There have especially been many tendencies in the modern age that have made us mischievously and in the end destructively egocentric, and even our societies are in danger of being left with no justification or function but to bolster our egotism. This was one of the themes in The Spoiled Child of the Western World —especially in the chapter “The Exhaustion of the Self”—and these essays continue that theme. They are addressed to the spoiled child that all of us are incited to become, and if the emphasis seems sometimes to be placed heavily on the young people of today, that is only because we can see in them the next stage in the decline into a listless self-concern. The behavior of the young reflects the attitudes of their elders.
This is not a work of theology, but its debt to theology is clear. Since the sins were defined by theology, we cannot and should not wish to escape from its definitions, even when we are unable wholly to accept them. I have consulted some theologians I know; the manuscript was shown to them. Although it would be too much to say that they have given the book their imprimatur and nihil obstat , they have been kind enough to say that its mere layman’s grasp of theology at least does not offend in any important particular.
Some years ago the Sunday Times of London published a series on the Seven Deadly Sins, by seven of the best-known English writers of the day, which were then published as a book. I found them slender at the time and have still found them slender on rereading them, even though Angus Wilson on Envy and Christopher Sykes on Lust bear perusal. They nevertheless raise an interesting point. In his introduction to them, Raymond Mortimer says that although “in a series of articles such as I am introducing, passionate denunciations and threats of brimstone would be out of place, . . . the mildness with which on the whole they regard the deadly sins may be thought surprising and significant.” In other words, they avoid moralizing, but at the cost of speaking very seriously about morality. I hope that I have avoided moralizing, but it is surely pointless to write of sin at all, if one is not prepared to speak strongly in moral terms.
Washington, D.C.
Christmas 1977
Peccatum poena peccati
Sin is the punishment of sin.
St. Augustine
TO RAISE THE subject of sin is to provoke the interest and usually the humor of everyone; it is also to discover how limited is the range of humor on the subject. People seem compelled to try to be funny about sin, but the jokes are only variations on the theme that sin is fun, and of course that Lust especially is fun. There are some attempts at merriment about Gluttony, and to a lesser extent about Avarice and Sloth, but there the humor begins to falter. No one seems able to take Envy lightly, the thought of Anger is discomfiting, and that Pride is counted a sin causes mainly bewilderment. Everyone is responding differently to the “warm, disreputable” sins and to the “cold, respectable” ones.
But what is interesting is that when people are brought face to face with a sin, such as Envy, to which they are not willing to admit, they turn to look again at the sins, such as Lust, of which they were at first eager to boast. What has happened is that they have been made to confront the idea of sin itself—not of particular sins, lapses in our conduct that may not seem to count for much, but the fact of sin—and it is at this point that one realizes that, even in a secular age, we need to keep the idea of sin. Even the weakness of this statement, if left as it is, is characteristic of our own times. What it half-heartedly says is that, although we may not believe that sin exists, we nevertheless need to keep its shadow, just as we might say that, although we may not believe that God exists, we still need to keep his shadow. We must speak more directly. We sin.
We are not exempt from sinning simply because we do not believe that the willful violation of our humanity is no less a willful violation of our life in God; and even the most irreligious among us can have some idea of what that concept means. When a theologian says that “in each of the sins, a man acts in such a way as to make his relationship to God precarious, frightened, suspicion-laden, deceitful,” it is not impossible for the irreligious to understand what he is saying, as they can also understand when he adds that “sin is what a man is compelled to confess to God because his action has placed him in a crisis before God.” Certainly if one has no inkling of what he is talking about, one will understand why sin is more than moral evil, why it is commonly described as infidelity, why it has been said that sin is less like the act of a criminal than the act of a traitor. Betrayal and self-betrayal are in the substance of sin, and for the traitor there is rarely a way back. “As you have destroyed your life in this city,” says Cavafy in a terrible line, “you have ruined it in the rest of the world.”
One does not like to begin on so alarming a note. The prospect at once seems so desolate. One can almost hear the readers closing the book and turning quickly to panaceas that are less exacting. But if it seems so desolate, it can only be because the idea of sin, when we are forced to confront it, at once places its finger on something in ourselves of which we are aware, and of which we do not like to be reminded, when there are so many easier explanations to hand. If we fear what the idea of sin tells us of ourselves, it is because we fear ourselves.
Sin is the destruction of one’s self as well as the destruction of one’s relationships with others. But the fearfulness of the destruction cannot be grasped unless we realize that the damage is done precisely where each of our natures is organized by some unifying principle that is more than its parts, where there is something unknowable in us, which we nevertheless know to be most completely ourselves and with which we have each to form our own relationship:

Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say we feel—below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.
This is where sin causes its devastation in us, at the very core of our beings, where life’s flow is this noiseless, strong, deep, obscure current in us; and if to talk of God helps to reinforce our awareness of how deeply our personalities lie within us, and how severely we violate them when we sin, then the unbelieving may sometimes use His name without taking it in vain. At least we still vaguely understand it.
But in their secularization of everything else, the unbelieving must be careful not to secularize God. He is more than an Idea. He is more than the Word. He is more than Logos. There are too many unbelievers today—many of them even in our temples and churches—who take His name in vain. Perhaps no one sins more outrageously in our age, or is more characteristic of the slackness we tolerate, than the priest and the theologian who reduce God to no more than a concept but insist that they believe enough to remain members of their church or temple. They are making it awkward to be an atheist. Apparently one may now deny the teachings of Christianity—even a te

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