I just finished watching a special on the History Channel about the seven deadly sins. They had two episodes tonight, on lust and envy. I love all things church-related, so even though I rarely watch the History Channel, I watched both episodes to see what they were up to and to compare. The differences –and the similarities–were striking, and a little bothersome.
The episode on lust was far more religiously-themed. It seems almost ludicrous to say that the special on the sin of envy was less religious, but I know what I saw. Lust was never once separated from love. Having read and prayed and thought as much as I have about the true nature and purpose of sex, love, and marriage, I know that lust is not love, and love not lust. Pope Gregory the Great’s reform of a fourth-century monk’s list of the eight terrible temptations of man into the traditional list of seven was made to seem like another crazy Catholic whim. The beginning of the tradition of priestly celibacy, then, followed from the desire to crush any possible enjoyment of sex. Marriage, the show concluded, was clearly promoted to eliminate all that. Modern society should succumb to its natural tendencies toward lust, then, and stop pretending like it isn’t profitable and natural.
That, of course, is ridiculous. Marriage, even sacramental Catholic marriage, is about union and procreation both, not one without the other. Lust and love are different. Like every other sin, deadly or venial, it is not the fact that such desires exist within the human heart that is sinful, it is the action that follows from the desire. One of the expert commentators finally said that, to my relief; I think it was the rabbi. In their defense, they did interview a Benedictine priest, and the visual presentation was excellent, but the content left much to be desired.
The episode on envy was not as anti-religious, but just as uneven. Envy was portrayed as the most common of the seven deadly sins, the one that everyone experiences but hides. (Aren’t they all like that?) It was a much more historical examination of envy: the power that fuels capitalism, equality, and the drive to better oneself. Envy, they reasoned, wouldn’t be so bad if you could just harness it a little. They separated the vindictiveness of envy from the distraction of jealousy, but that was as good as it got. They interviewed random high school students just to have them say what we all know: people, especially teenagers, want what others have. Just like lust, gluttony, pride, and every other sin, it’s the failure to harness temptation that leads us to sin.
Honestly, if I wanted information on the seven deadly sins, I’d probably be better off with The Divine Comedy–and that’s fiction!