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  • Christianity has, traditionally, spoken a lot about sinners. In the fourth century,

  • the Church identifiedseven deadly sins’: failings of character that were to be particularly

  • condemned and avoided by all righteous people. They were; Pride (being snobbish and boastful)

  • Envy, Wrath (getting very angry), Gluttony (eating too much), Lust (wanting to sleep

  • around), Sloth (being lazy) and finally Greed. Christianity took these to be severe

  • faults of the soul that marked out a person as a fitting target for scolding and punishment.

  • God himself would, on the Day of Judgement, be remorseless with sinners and send them

  • to spend millennia in the darker, more tortured bits of Purgatory. We may not use precisely

  • such traditional, theological words today, and we may not imagine the Creator of the

  • Universe as someone who organises chastisement for people beyond the grave. But, in the spirit

  • in which we interpret failings of character and respond to people’s less fortunate sides

  • in the online and real worlds, we tend to retain a similarly damning and ungenerous

  • set of attitudes. We may feel that, through our harshness, we are helping humanity to

  • improve, but if this is really our goal, then it pays to move beyond mere condemnation in

  • an attempt to understand what truly drives people in their more regrettable moments.

  • We stand to stumble on a surprising truth: behaviour we call sinful is never simply that.

  • It represents an unfortunate first response to difficulty and distress that could, if

  • it were properly understood, guided and forgiven, be redirected towards nobler ends. We aren’t

  • evil, so much as in a lot of pain in a series of areas. Let’s consider each of the seven

  • sins in turn: PrideIt can appear as if we end up boasting and grandstanding because

  • were so pleased with ourselves. Far from it. Boasting is only ever a response to a

  • feeling of invisibility. We badly need to thrust forward an idea of our own importance

  • because (behind the scenes) our very right to exist seems so much in question. We see

  • it as almost inevitable that others will think ill of usunless we urgently and dramatically

  • assert our greatness. That is why, of all people, the proud don’t need to be told

  • they are terrible; this is precisely what they secretly think they are already. They

  • need encouragement to feel a more genuine pride in their own meritsso as to be

  • spared the manic impulse constantly to call them to the attention of others. EnvyEnvy

  • is a graceless way of confronting an idea that is, in other contexts, fundamental to

  • decent ambition as well as modesty of character: the notion that we are incomplete, imperfect

  • and in need of improvement. Envy grows from the legitimate insight that others have something

  • to teach usmixed together with a degree of inaccuracy and panic about what this might

  • actually be. Envy should, ideally, be our teacher. We should note when it strikes us,

  • sift through its confused signals and use them to work out our direction and purpose.

  • The solution isn’t to be made to feel guilty for our envious attacks. It is to be helped

  • to understand what is truly missing from our lives. WrathThe mean angry things we

  • say when were upset are almost never truly meant. They are the result of panic and anxiety.

  • We call someone a stupid fool because we are, that moment, terrified. We shout because we

  • feel were fighting for our lives. Therefore, instead of being repeatedly told how appalling

  • it is to be angry (we of course know this quite well already), what we need is someone

  • to demonstrate a proper understanding of our underlying fears. ‘You must be scared

  • is the kindest but also the most effective response to any angry outburst; it puts its

  • finger on what is really going on. We need others to appreciate our fragility, not berate

  • us for our roars. GluttonyWe eat too many chicken wings and toasted sandwiches

  • not because were greedy, but because we are emotionally starving. We want love far

  • more than we want calories; were just at a loss as to how to find it. So the solution

  • isn’t to be told to eat less (as diet gurus and Christian theologians suggest); it is

  • to be helped to discover new sources of kindness, security and emotional connection. Our appetite

  • isn’t essentially badit simply hasn’t found its ideal target. Our excess weight

  • is a symbol of our background emotional undernourishment. LustWe want to keep jumping into bed

  • with people not out of degeneracy, but because we are lonely. Sex is the epitome of connection

  • and acceptance. The so-calledbadand erotic things we crave feel so exciting because

  • we read them as proofs of someone else’s open-ended affection, which is in such short

  • supply in ordinary life. Ideally we’d not be less lustful, we’d be clearer about what

  • we genuinely need from sex: which is acceptance of our messy, complex and all-too-human selves.

  • SlothLaziness is really fear. We can’t bear to get down to our work, because if we

  • were to apply ourselves, we risk terrifying humiliation. We might not succeed as well

  • as we’d like, we might find a task too hard, we may realise were not yet equipped to

  • undertake it or be mocked by the world. These aren’t failings so much as hugely understandable

  • anxieties. Behind our inaction is anticipated disaster; a catastrophizing mind. We will

  • begin at last when the fear of doing nothing at all trumps the crippling fear of doing

  • something badly. GreedThe powerful urge to take more than our fair share is really

  • a reaction to a feeling of deprivation; weve felt so neglected and vulnerable, we require

  • ever more. Our fear is so entrenched, were trying to keep it at bay by grabbing as much

  • as we can, as quickly as possible. To others, we may make look already advantaged and privileged;

  • inside we just feel desperate. In short, oursinsare not signs of being bad people.

  • They are the shape our unmet needs take when we haven’t found any better way of addressing

  • them. We don’t have to be berated or threatened with hell. We need an open affection that

  • welcomes us as we are, a forgiveness that doesn’t involve criticism and a tenderness

  • that delicately, without humiliation, locates our true vulnerabilities and encourages our

  • own native appetite for reform.

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Christianity has, traditionally, spoken a lot about sinners. In the fourth century,

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七つの大罪 (The Seven Deadly Sins)

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