The Lenten season provokes a surge of articles and commentary in the media, many of which have little to do with religious beliefs but which seem designed to dumb down or explain away some aspect of Christian faith. I guess they figure if they can create conflict or give credibility to some “deeply insightful” take on long-held religious beliefs, they will attract new readers and sell more newspapers.
One such article appeared in the February 10 issue of The Sunday Oregonian, to revise the list of the seven deadly sins. Modernize it, as they put it, “to better fit today’s cultural values,” whatever that means. Their “authority” was predictably not a religious person. This all makes sense, doesn’t it?
The old list first: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. This list was generated in the fourth century by a Greek monastic and edited 200 years later by Pope Gregory I.
Proverbs 6:16-19 was doubtless the original list:
“There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.“
I looked at the new list of seven deadly sins, and was shocked at its shallowness: distraction, selfishness, apathy, dishonesty, hypocrisy, cowardice, and ignorance. These are not good things but I must be missing something.
So let’s examine the creator of the modern list—John Frohnmayer, who says he’s “parted ways” with the Christian church. I think I know why. The paper says that “sin is still on his mind,” and that Frohnmayer was once a seminary student. The Sunday Oregonian also says he is the former director of the National Endowment for the Humanities. That’s not right; JF is the former director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
If you recall, Mr. Frohnmayer served less than three years as director of the NEA under President G.H.W. Bush because of the furor that erupted regarding NEA grants awarded to several artists whose work was patently offensive to religious people; e.g., a crucifix submerged in a vat of the artist’s urine.
Well, I once thought of going to seminary, and I used to think about sin more than I’d like to admit. However, I’m not nearly as smart as John Frohnmayer—Stanford, Univ. of Chicago, etc. Nevertheless, to presume to redefine sin seems to be a prideful blunder, especially if you try to upstage the wisest mortal who ever lived, that being King Solomon, who wrote most of the Proverbs, including those listed above as “those (sins) the LORD hates.”
Let’s discuss the first part of Frohnmayer’s take on the list “that doesn’t work for him anymore.” He says that human beings need a healthy sense of pride in themselves, so “when Muhammad Ali declared, ‘I am the greatest,’ he was just telling the truth.” JF was quoted as saying that “(e)nvy is positive when it inspires us to do better.”
He said that “sin, or whatever you want to call it … really is much more important if it offends society now than a higher power.” Really now?
According to researchers, JF’s list of big sins indeed reflects the changing attitudes of our society. So, do you think society’s mores are more important than God’s view of sin?
And what do you think about JF’s two views on “modernizing” pride and envy? Your thoughts, then we’ll deal with those questions and the remaining Big Five in a later blog.