pollution.jpg “A new commandment I give unto you,” saith Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti. So the Vatican announced a new list of “modern” sins — sorta.

No official list of new sins has been issued by the Vatican, though the Bloomberg wire service reduced Girotti’s interview to a catalogue of “Seven Social Sins”: birth control, stem cell research, drug abuse, polluting, helping widen the gap between rich and poor, excessive wealth and creating poverty.

In fact, these are all issues the church has struggled with for years while trying to apply ancient teachings to modern ethical dilemmas.

A number of the reports have sensationalized the list, muddling what was actually said, which includes:

There are various areas today in which we adopt sinful behavior, as with individual and social rights. This is especially so in the field of bioethics where we cannot deny the existence of violations of fundamental rights of human nature – this occurs by way of experiments and genetic modifications, whose results we cannot easily predict or control. Another area, which indeed pertains to the social spectrum, is that of drug use, which weakens our minds and reduces our intelligence. As a result, many young people are left out of Church circles. Here’s another one: social and economic inequality, in the sense that the rich always seem to get richer, and the poor, poorer. This [phenomenon] feeds off an unsustainable form of social injustice and is related to environmental issues –which currently have much relevant interest.

Commentary on the new list of sins generally follows this line — these are not new prohibitions, but clarifications of what the Bible already teaches in principle. In a lot of cases, it seems that people aren’t connecting the modern manifestations of sin with the words of Jesus.

[Toronto Archbishop Thomas] Collins said issues of wealth and poverty go back to the teachings of Jesus Christ and lie at the very heart of the faith. But in a time of growing disparity between rich and poor, such tenets deserve revisiting for the modern era.

The original seven deadly sins as outlined in the sixth century by Pope Gregory I – lust, anger, sloth, envy, gluttony, pride and greed – emphasized individual behaviour, Collins said.

Girotti’s social sins take a broader approach, telling us that joining in such behaviours as wasteful driving habits that contribute to global warming, or accumulating excess wealth at the expense of others, is a matter for the confession box.

“We need to look internally at our personal sins, but we also need to look at how our actions affect our neighbours,” Collins said.

I guess now we know why there aren’t a lot of obscenely wealthy Catholic televangelists. What I like about this list something that Collins points out — it’s focused on the wrong we do to others, even if they are nameless, faceless others. Even if the “others” are as “inanimate” as creation itself. This inward/outward dual type of sin is rooted in scripture as we’ve seen before in such places as the two halves of the ten commandments, the Great Commandment to love God and love your neighbour (antithesis, sin individually against God or corporately against your neighbour); see also, the Jesus Creed.

Coincidentally, the Southern Baptists (though not formally the SBC) have released Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change which stands against the ostrich-like approach taken by some fundamentalists.

In all, it sounds as though there’s a growing awareness that sin is not always between us and God… and that some of our actions are sinful in their effects toward others. Even so, the issue is rooted in our own hearts, which don’t appreciate very well that the issues in our minds are not the ones in God’s mind. In all our speaking out on God’s behalf, we so often tend to miss his heart. Earlier today I was reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (p.78).

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed of leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, “Business as usual.” But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.

So that’s it, then, isn’t it? These new sins, this realization that creation actually matters to God, this outward-focused conception of sin is essentially a realignment of our religious hearts with the acts of religion. But will evangelicals listen to the Vatican?

What do you think?

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