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Evagrius Ponticus Is Old and Stupid

Something that has been utterly conquered by Dr. Phil can no longer be considered deadly. No, I’m not talking about daytime TV, though afternoon programming is surely among the world’s most hideous scourges. I refer instead to the seven deadly sins. (Cue intense orchestral music each time I type that phrase for optimal effect, please.) The seven deadly sins were established by–oh hell, you can just go to Wikipedia like I just did rather than have me type it out for you. You’ll see great terms like SALIGIA, haughty eyes, and Belphegor. What you won’t find is an acknowledgement of how useless these sins have become as an ethical guide.

Sure, when 4th century monk Evagrius Ponticus set the stage for the 7DS’s glorious reign, they were vital–not to change people, because surely we are just as lusty, wrathful, slothful, etc. as before. (Actually, we must be more slothful now. Escalators and white-collar work see to that.) No, their use was vital mostly as a justification for the need for a church as a guide, but also practically as a crash course in etiquette for a new religion. You can’t share in communion with those who will lie to your face or hog all the wine. Likewise, a nice little dinner party in Canaan or Galicia will be ruined if one of the guests is going to kidnap your wife or defecate in his chair. They didn’t know this then, apparently.

But that was then! The Hills aside, we have evolved, making these basic rules of interaction now seem inherent. Don’t lust after your neighbor’s husband? You don’t say. If we choose to do such a thing, it isn’t because we’re ignorant to what’s right and wrong. It’s because that guy is totally hot and I want him now! Modern people using the seven deadly sins as a moral compass is like a contractor using a 1910 manual as an installation guide: “As you install the furnace, reduce your exposure to asbestos to 10 hours a day, or half a working shift. Additionally, try to limit your delicious cigarette intake to 16 an hour as the present chemicals are volatile, but certainly not otherwise bad for you.”

So the 7DSs are out of style. Beyond this, they are all about personal problems. A sin against one’s self is lousy, sure, but deadly? I can think of worse things in the world than a slovenly pervert coveting my car. For a sin to be deadly, should it not negatively affect a broad swath of society, or at least everyone in a cul-de-sac? Let’s accept, for the sake of me being able to transition to part two, that we humans are now capable of doing the right thing for ourselves. If so, let’s jump to some really big problems–some really deadly sins–that need attention. Here are a few off the top of my head.

Don’t treat people badly from the get-go.

It is right to treat people with a high level of respect, and let them make their own down adjustments. I’m amazed at how many people treat others badly at first, either to their face or behind their back, only to later determine, “You know, he’s a good shit.” The problem here is that these assholes get to set the tone for what is good in a person and what is not because they are vocal. I don’t care if an asshole thinks I’m good people. But assholes are typically loud and certainly pervasive, so their opinions at times seem to be the status quo. Epic to the fail. Take control of who deserves good and bad treatment in your life. You’ll find yourself sharing much less time with the wrong people, and much more time craving people who have been great the whole time, just quietly so.

Don’t have forcible sex.

Why are sexual assault and rape rates so unbelievably high? Don’t believe this isn’t a problem in your country or your town–forcible sex is all over. Take a stand where you can. Stop assuming life is like a porno and learn how to find a person or people that have what you want but also want what you have. Have sex the old-fashioned way: earn it. If you can’t do this, either lower your standards, turn ascetic, or kill yourself.

Do not hurt children.

This should be in the “no shit” category, yet children continue to be hurt. If you hurt a kid, you should also kill yourself right now. Sure, suicide is considered a mortal sin in many religions, but in a system of rules and guidance, that sin is surely lesser than child abuse, so cut your losses. Thank you for your attention.

Don’t ignore how others react to you.

When I was a kid, we called the fat kids fat and the ugly kids ugly. The smart kids were nerds and geeks (that was me), the smokers were gearheads or druggies, and everyone else was something negative. We all had a flaw, real or perceived, that was brought out for the public’s attention, broadcast loudly, and laughed about. Then we grew up, it was over, and most of us went on to normal lives. From this experience, what we carried with us into adulthood was a sense of wanting to fit in, faint echoes of the other kids laughing never far from us, yet complemented with enough smarts about wanting to fit in on things that matter. In other words, most of my friends know when someone’s comments about them are to be ignored or should be considered. I’m being loud and obnoxious? Okay, that’s embarrassing–I’m going to chill out now. I just said something racist? You’re right–thanks for letting me know. You don’t like my shirt? Well bollocks to you–I don’t like your face. Simple, right?

A lot of this perspective is missing now. Once again, assholes rule the roost, probably because of a general fear that assholes may have a weapon. Someone is being loud and obnoxious on the train? That sucks, because surely no one will say anything. And guess what–the next time, that asshole will be just as bold to be stupid, not having been corrected for such stupid behavior before. What an awful cycle.

It’s too bad these people don’t pay attention to the discomfort or disgust they bring out in others. Listen, I’m not suggesting that we should deny who we are. We all deserve to be appreciated for who we are–assuming who we are has some nice, positive, useful, enjoyable qualities. I am suggesting if you make everyone around you uncomfortable, you should change who you are. (No, you shouldn’t kill yourself for this one.) Making everyone notice you for the wrong reason is sinful in the sense that our pursuit of happiness is being messed with. Don’t mess with a person’s car, a person’s spouse, or a person’ s pursuit of happiness.

Don’t use the term “retarded” or “retard” so liberally.

Are you comfortable using the term “faggot” in public? Do you feel good about making racial or religious insults? If not, why do you feel so comfortable calling someone a retard? Is there a difference in your mind? Why?

Don’t fit yourself into neatly ordered categories, like “seven deadly sins.”

I have no idea what number I’m on. And that’s great! As a long-time editor, I appreciate order and parallelism, but I don’t want to be a stooge about it. How many neatly ordered lists have parts that suck? How many Top 10s were really Top 6s with 4 barely honorable mentions? Avoiding this sin is particularly important if you took my other ones to heart. We all need a balance between making others feel good but not being a sycophantic square.

14 responses to “Evagrius Ponticus Is Old and Stupid”

  1. Avatar Jared says:

    Excellent! I really enjoyed this, and I agree with a lot of it.

  2. bb222 bb222 says:

    Excellent Jason, but when did child abuse become so taboo? Spare the rod, spoil the child, right? Bring back the beatings, I say. What’s worse, horrifying memories of parental abuse, or the stomach-turning realization that while you were an ungrateful kid snacking on fruity pebbles and playing video games, some child in Afghanistan was weeping with joy that there were enough locusts to eat for dinner? Either way, you still end up in therapy.

  3. Avatar Rebecca says:

    Way to go on these, Jason. Also reminds me of Dan Savage’s Book, “Skipping Towards Gomorrah – The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America.”

  4. […] is a post today at 30pov with the provocative title “Evagrius Ponticus is Old and Stupid”. The thesis here is that the seven deadly sins are obsolete, and need to be updated. The title is a […]

  5. Avatar bozo on the bus says:

    I get your point of view. I think simply working on not judging and the “Golden Rule” can be a good simple guide. Maybe you could define “sin” in your next piece? Is a sin an action that is bad or is it something that blocks us from consciousness and keeps us in a self centered state? I am not sure about others but when I realy purely on intellect and I am only thinking about my material wants I am in a painful place. Be well.

  6. Avatar Gina says:

    I love it, with this addendum: If you mess with a person’s car, a person’s spouse, or a person’ s pursuit of happiness, and for whatever reasons, you cannot change who you are, you kill yourself.

  7. Avatar lee lee says:

    Don’t ignore how others react to you.…this is my favorite one. i get so annoyed when loud people (who are usually fat, incidentally) dominate a restaurant, party or other small space with their guffaws and yelps of glee. previously, i felt a twinge of guilt about this: because, let’s face it, i’m sometimes loud, too (and usually fat, incidentally). but your way to frame it is so much better…you can be loud, in the right context. and, if no one looks at you like they wish you would just die already, then it’s probably okay…!

  8. Avatar Michael says:

    Bravo Jason Leary, another captivating piece. I always enjoy your style of writing, it’s different from the styles I am accustom to in the Caribbean. I miss you updating the Charlie’s Blog, I get that sense of passionate feelings relating to Charlie’s life in my long absence from his life. Notwithstanding this piece has underpinnings that one can easily identify with couple with a touch of humor that breaks the monotony of other articles. Well done Jay.

  9. Avatar Meera says:

    Nice, Jason!
    I guess most of these boil down to “Don’t be a living A-hole. Change either the “living” part or the “A-hole” part.”
    I’m not sure what you mean by abuse, but if pinching a child is a deadly sin, I’ve been there, doing that. Guilty.

  10. Avatar Heather says:

    OK, so to not ignore how others react to me (i.e, you to me) I will try to curb my too frequent use of the word “retard”. Crap, that is going to be hard.

  11. Avatar Scott says:

    Well Done, Jason. You’ve come a long way since the Clarion.
    Somehow I would think “opening fire on a large group of people you don’t really know’ would also make the list, as it usually is deadly for the shootees and the shooters. You could call it “going postal,” though we both know that it now is more appropriate to say “going shopping mall” or “going Von Maur” or “going pretty much anywhere public.”
    Also, Large displays of back hair is probably the next one on your list. Or foot hair.

  12. Your best yet, Jason. Fantastic! And while delivering another great, well thought out read, you’ve also opened my eyes to what a remarkable sinner I am. Thanks…I think…

  13. Avatar yoursurprise-bellatio-5 says:

    Hello there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics? Thanks for your time!

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December 2009
Season Finale
November 2009
{Seven Deadly} Sins
October 2009
Mischief Making
September 2009
Green Ethics
August 2009