Column Date 2008-03-24

Seven new ways to go to hell

Just when you thought you were safe, they go and change the rules.

That's right -- the Vatican, the world authority on sinning, has come up with seven brand new deadly sins.

But before we get into those new sins, a quick review of the old deadly sins is in order: they are Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth.

(Pop Quiz: Can you match the sin with its traditional punishment? Here are the punishments: being broken on the wheel, put in freezing water, forced to eat rats, toads and snakes, smothered in fire and brimstone, dismembered alive, dropped into a cauldron of boiling oil, and thrown into a pit of snakes.*)

Now here's the Vatican's list of new sins, from Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

First, there's "Genetic engineering". This is our first really ironic sin, since the whole idea came from Gregor Mendel, an Augustine priest, who is called the 'Father of Genetics'. God works in mysterious ways, I guess.

Next is "Morally dubious human experimentation" -- cloning stem cells, for example, with the sinful aim of curing diseases and reducing human pain and suffering. Enough said.

Then there's "Polluting the environment". Luckily, we in America do not have to worry about this since our major corporations have teams of lawyers who insist they do not actually pollute.

"Social injustice" also made the new sin list. Which leads me to wonder whether the entire Bush administration will be sent directly to hell when they die. Can they sin "en masse," so to speak, when they give billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy while vetoing medical care for millions of poor children?
"Causing poverty" is another interesting sin, particularly since thirty-seven million Americans now live below the poverty line. Can we expect church officials to lead a march on Washington? Will hundreds of congressmen rush to church to confess? As sins go, this one sounds really promising.

I love this next sin: "Financial gluttony". This could be the Mother Of All Sins in America today. Imagine your favorite CEO having to choose between an obscene Christmas bonus or being boiled alive in a cauldron of oil. (Where's my life coach when I need him?)

Finally, there's the new sin of "Taking drugs," which sounds suspiciously like a recycled sin, perhaps even a biblical one. (A recent theory suggests that the religious experiences of seeing burning bushes and talking directly to God are not that dissimilar from common reactions to hallucinatory drugs.)

With all these new sins to atone for, it's clear that ordinary mortals like you and me will have to spend hours doing nothing but sitting in the confessional.

Or would that be considered sloth?

* Answer: the punishments are in the same order as the seven original sins.

©2008 Peter Tannen