What is a deadly sin

Sin and vice

Heiko Ernst

To person

Dipl.-Psych., Born in 1948; since 1979 (until the end of 2014) editor-in-chief of the magazine "Psychologie heute", author of "How the devil rides us. On the topicality of the 7 deadly sins" (2011). [email protected]

The idea of ​​deadly sins arose in monastic life in the fifth century AD. Over hundreds of years a catalog of sins was developed, tested and refined and finally fixed from eight to seven: arrogance (saligia), Greed (avaritia), Lust (luxuria), Anger (ira), Gluttony (gula), Envy (invidia) and indolence (acedia). In the monastic microcosm, characterized by renunciation, contemplation and work, but also by group life, by temptations of the body and the mind, the condensate of human weaknesses, vices and passions was distilled. This happened through scholarly disputes and introspection, also - to use the modern term - through self-awareness. As ascetics and celibate people, monks and nuns became the absolute specialists when it came to questions of temptation, self-control and loss of control. In dealing with the seven main vices, a meaningful grid gradually emerged in the course of time to describe and explain human needs and ways of acting in the field of tension between religion, morality and society, between biology and psychology.

Even for non-believers, the confrontation with the "Big Seven" offers deep insights into their own psyche: They are an illuminating, sometimes disturbing possibility of self-knowledge. The deadly sins also represent negative archetypes of human characters. That is why the once sinful passions and vices served as the primary colors with which the great novelists and playwrights portrayed their negative heroes: Jago's murderous envy is the real theme in Shakespeare's Othello, Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' Christmas story or Molière's miser are the literary archetypes of greed, and Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas is the epitome of self-destructive anger. Because mortal sins obviously capture anthropological constants, they are also suitable for reflecting on the behavior of contemporary people and the change in their moral and ethical problems Investigate societies. Arrogance, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and indolence are mostly just astonishingly weakly reshaped and painstakingly controlled feelings through culture and civilization. "Sin" is therefore, despite all secularization, a concept even today that everyone can understand, even if he rejects it for himself.

Today's encounters

When the British cultural broadcaster Radio 4 asked its listeners in 2005 to create their own lists of the worst sins of our time, it was surprisingly above all indolence (in all its facets - as apathy, indifference or laziness) that was particularly common among the original Seven was called. The "new" sins emerged: selfishness, hypocrisy, intolerance, cruelty and cynicism. Greed and envy, anger and indolence, arrogance, gluttony and lust can still be observed today in ever new variations and forms - even if they are not always named by their real names and we use a variety of other terms.

greed, for example, has many faces: We get excited about the "Raffkes" in the political class and the "rip-offs" in the economy. But greed and avarice are not a privilege of the mighty. We seem to have become a people of bargain hunters who practice a strange mixture of greed and greed - wanting to have as much as possible and paying as little as possible: The word "value for money" appears in almost every conversation about going to a restaurant or vacation in the second sentence at the latest.

Also Lust Today is no longer a vice, hardly a consuming passion, but an always available, quickly consumable matter. The modern Casanova is not a wicked womanizer, but a poor sex addict. The contemporary don Juan is a driven man who compensates for his self-esteem problems through sexual conquest. A thoroughly banalized sexuality shapes and impregnates our society: The permanent stimulation of sexual pleasure is a common marketing tool, key sexual stimuli are an incentive to buy, and "sexy" is an indispensable lifestyle attribute in general. Erotic stimuli also condition us as consumers: it is not for nothing that it is said sex sells.

gluttony in all its manifestations - food addiction, orgiastic gossip, alcoholism, demonstrative extravagance - is the least perceived as a sin. Gluttony is considered in some circles as a despicable, chubby character weakness, or it is the expression of a health disorder that is primarily apparent as an aesthetic problem. The excessive oral intake manifests itself in a variety of symptoms: It can be read from the increasing frequency of obesity, epidemic eating disorders, and addiction statistics. But it is also recognizable in the obsessive preoccupation with everything to do with food, for example with the invasion of the TV chefs or the search for ever new tickles for the palate and "exclusive" delights. The blasphemy that lies in the term "eating temple" escapes us completely.

envy is the first sin beyond Eden: Cain slew Abel out of envy. But at the latest with the beginning of the bourgeois age, envy is the real engine of progress and economic growth. This is all the more true today, in accelerated consumer capitalism, where it must succeed at all costs, the wish "I must have that too!" to wake up again and again. But envy is also a powerful principle of order in modern societies. It crystallizes into structures and institutions that are supposed to manage and appease it because it always carries the seeds of state disaffection and revolts: The progressive taxation of higher incomes ("envy taxes") in many states and sophisticated compensation mechanisms testify to the pacifying, balancing power of envy. Nevertheless, envy often coagulates into resentment - and as such becomes a constant emotional pain, because existential inequalities and social injustices can never even come close to being eliminated.

pride has had the faces of arrogance, aloofness, arrogance and vanity since biblical times: "I am better, more beautiful, smarter than others!" Overconfidence and intellectual arrogance are just as much a part of his appearance today as the uninhibited display of beauty-operated and styled bodies. On the other hand, the deep fall of the haughty, processed by the media, is now part of the basic supply of entertainment and news: We delect ourselves with the overthrow of the vain into ridicule, and with grim satisfaction we register the banishment of the overly high-spirited into existential end. The standards have shifted dramatically in the past few decades: A certain level of narcissism is now granted to everyone who has to compete with others. In the modern attention economy, success cannot be had without self-exaltation and self-exaggeration, because the attention of others is the capital that pays the best interest.

The inertia nests today above all where the withdrawal from responsibility for one's neighbor is disguised as an ostensibly rational attitude, as non-interference. Indolence today is above all indifference, it manifests itself in the willful ignoring of other people's fates, it is the comfortable neutrality that suggests that we stay out of it. But it also appears as habitual laziness of thinking and as a self-underload, often disguised as overload. Paradoxically, inertia makes you inventive: We are working on avoiding more and more exercise - both physical (taking the car to get a cigarette, taking the elevator to the gym, shopping on the Internet) and mental (watching TV instead of reading, letting people think instead of thinking for themselves) .

And how angry we are today! How easily our anger ignites! We are especially angry about the other sinners who cost us time and money, who get in the way of our greed or our lust or who disturb our indolence. We are outraged and angry ("I'm getting a throat!") Because our claims are not satisfied or our rights are not respected - and we have high standards and many rights! Even a short drive in the car brings you into contact with your own anger and with the many other angry people: with angry, light-honed shovers or excitedly gesticulating educators. The epidemic of aggression on the streets already has its own name: road rage. But the aggressive trumpeting and hitting the table has long been common in other areas of life, the threshold to an outbreak of anger is extremely lowered.

The deadly sins have largely lost their spiritual or existential significance in our lives. Today they appear to us more as unpleasant but banal behaviors, as quirks and neuroses, but also as contemporary strategies for maximizing success and pleasure or self-assertion. Sinners are no longer tragic figures, addicted to their passions and vices, and for whom a Dante devised his infernal punishments. They appear today as light versions: as consumer idiots, jealous hammers, contentious neighbors, porn consumers, obese, couch potatoes or tanned self-promoters The sins have arrived in the middle of society, as sometimes unpleasant, but largely also tolerated, sometimes even specifically promoted behavior.

The seven deadly sins no longer shape a character - as in earlier times. We are certainly more disposed to this or that sin than to the other; there are sins that we are more willing to commit because of temperament or family background. But the big miser, which Freud classically described as the "anal character", only seldom exists in its pure form. Most people today are greedy, vain and stingy at the same time, equally capable of waste and thrift - mostly in undramatic "rashes", apart from film characters such as the "Wolf of Wall Street" or Gordon Gekko. Rather, a characteristic of our time is that there are living conditions and situations in which our "sinful" impulses are stimulated very frequently and sometimes even systematically: In a mobile society, which is oriented towards performance, competition and competition, there are more opportunities to be envious or to be haughty than in a civil society. Stress and time pressures make us impatient, irritable - and we react with anger and anger to obstacles, real and imagined. But we are also constantly encouraged to consume and consume, to indulge in self-indulgence and comfort - and are therefore more sluggish, hungrier, hornier and greedy than we would be in a less stimulating environment. The majority of us have mutated into opportunistic personalities of the moment, into bargain hunters of the happiness that promises us the small and big sins.