Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sin, Virtue and Society

The seven deadly sins were the seven cardinal sins enumerated by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century – pride or vanity, envy, gluttony, greed or avarice, lust, sloth, and wrath or anger. These seven certainly are the cause of much human misery and may even be among those faults that condemn us and those around us most certainly to a life of pain, a future of failure and the loss of our most significant emotional attachments with those closest to us. Unfortunately, as a catalogue of human weaknesses, this list of seven is not nearly exhaustive. It is a starting point in examining one’s conscience.

Most of us will have been guilty of at least these seven at one or more times in our lives, but most of us are not trapped in a cycle of failure, repeating the same mistakes endlessly. Those of us who are hurt so severely that we bear the psychological scars of abuse are among the unfortunate mortals whose lives are dominated by patterns of thought and behaviour that result in slavish, predictable, habitual acquiescence to our imperfections. For such people these seven sins, and so many others, are controlling, driving, compelling imperatives.

The Christian tradition teaches that to sin is a choice and therefore is deserving of blame and punishment. If only that were true for all of us. For some innocents the punishment comes first. The resulting damage that one bears can be lifelong and it drives us on a downward spiral, unknowingly digging our own premature graves. Does this deserve to be called sin? The word loses its meaning when one becomes enslaved by pain, misery and confusion. Choice seems like a remote ideal, a luxury, for someone who is truly desperate, whose feelings are numbed and whose thoughts, driven by a powerful current, rush and tumble like a cold whitewater river hurtling over rocks and swirling down into deep eddies. The disordered individual may, without intervention, never become aware of his entrapment, his curse, the fulfillment of a cycle. He might wander aimlessly, endlessly up and down the paths through his own particular forest of pain, failure and confusion; or with love, help, commitment and perseverance he can heal; he can change the pattens in his head and in his life.

From the tradition of monotheistic religion to the western medical tradition the focus on sin, weakness, fault and illness has the goal of correcting, civilizing, and socializing the individual to satisfy the expectations and exigencies of the family, the church, the state or the society.  Take, for example, the seven cardinal virtues. These are the sacred counterparts of the seven deadly sins: chastity, temperance, generosity, diligence, patience, kindness and modesty. They may be good and noble virtues, even among those gifts that will be bestowed upon you  in the course of your progress along the paths mapped out in this book, but they are not the most important goals for us to achieve as people recovering from abuse, from pain. This book is not about religion; I feel that there are enough books written from that perspective, from Thomas Aquinas on. In this book I am not approaching the subject from the point of view of the group, the church or the gods. I am approaching it from your point of view, as an individual who has suffered and who hopes to end the suffering. My purpose is not to build better citizens for the state, or more productive workers for the society. Rather I come to the problem from the point of view of the individual suffering unnecessarily.

The journey we shall take commences at the point when one’s inner life begins, as a child, but not a living child, an inner-child, locked in time, forever orbiting in the universe within one’s head. Each of these cursed children that is set free, each triumphant release, will advance the sufferer toward his new authentic self; toward a life free of the urgent imperatives and compulsions of his pain and imperfection.

 

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