Knowledge of the seven deadly sins
today is inferior to the past,
but many can still name most of the sins on the list.
How many remember that gluttony is one of the sins,
though, much less understand why it was traditionally condemned by Christianity as a sin equal to that of
lust, pride, anger,
Punishing the Prideful:
Punishment in Hell for the Deadly Sin of Pride is to be Broken on the Wheel.
Pride (Vanity), is excessive belief in one's abilities, such that you don't give credit to God. Pride is also failure to give others credit due them - if someone's Pride bothers you, then you are also guilty of Pride. Aquinas argued that all other sins stem from Pride, making this one of the most important sins to focus on: "inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin...the root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule."
Christian teaching against pride encourages people to be submissive to religious authorities in order to submit to God, thus enhancing church power.
Prideful people, those guilty of committing the deadly sin of pride, are said to be punished in hell by be "broken on the wheel." It's not clear what this particular punishment has to do with attacking pride. Perhaps during medieval times being broken on the wheel was an especially humiliating punishment to have to endure.
This image appeared in 1496 in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, published by Nicolas le Rouge in Troyes, France. We can see here several prideful people being broken on a couple of wheels.
Punishing the Envious:
Punishment in Hell for the Deadly Sin of Envy is to be Immersed in Freezing WaterPride.
Envy is a desire to possess what others have, whether material objects, like cars, or character traits, like a positive outlook or patience. According to Christian tradition, envying others results in failing to be happy for them. Aquinas wrote that envy "...is contrary to charity, whence the soul derives its spiritual life... Charity rejoices in our neighbor's good, while envy grieves over it.
Envious people, those guilty of committing the deadly sin of envy, will be punished in hell by being immersed in freezing water for all eternity. It's unclear what sort of connection exists between punishing envy and enduring freezing water. Is the cold supposed to teach them why it's wrong to desire what others have? Is it supposed to chill their desires?
This image appeared in 1496 in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, published by Nicolas le Rouge in Troyes, France. It depicts a bunch of people suffering in the icy water of hell.
Punishing the Gluttonous:
Punishment in Hell for the Deadly Sin of Gluttony is to be Force-Fed Rats, Toads, Snakes.
Gluttony is normally associated with eating too much, but it has a broader connotation that includes trying to consume more of anything than you actually need, food included. Thomas Aquinas wrote that Gluttony is about "...not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire...leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists." Thus the phrase "glutton for punishment" isn't as metaphorical as one might imagine.
In addition to committing the deadly sin of gluttony by eating too much, one can do so by consuming too many resources overall (water, food, energy), by spending inordinately to have especially rich foods, by spending inordinately to have too much of something (cars, games, houses, music, etc.), and so forth. Gluttony could be construed as the sin of excessive materialism and, in principle, focus on this sin could encourage a more just and equitable society.
Although the theory might be appealing, in practice Christian teaching that gluttony is a sin has been a good way to encourage those with very little to not want more and to be content with how little they are able to consume, since more would be sinful. At the same time, though, those who already over-consume have not been encouraged to do with less so that the poor and hungry could have enough.
This image appeared in 1496 in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, published by Nicolas le Rouge in Troyes, France. We see many being forced to eat rats, toads, and snakes.
Punishing the Lustful:
Punishment in Hell for the Deadly Sin of Lust is to be Smothered in Fire, Brimstone.
Lust is the desire to experience physical, sensual pleasures (not just those which are sexual). Desire for physical pleasures is considered sinful because it causes us to ignore more important spiritual needs or commandments. Sexual desire is also sinful according to traditional Christianity because it leads to using sex for more than procreation.
Condemning lust and physical pleasure is part of Christianity's general effort to promote the afterlife over this life and what it has to offer. It helps lock people into the view that sex and sexuality exist only for procreation, not for love or even just the pleasure of the acts themselves. Christian denigration of physical pleasures generally, and sexuality in particular, have been among some of the most serious problems with Christianity throughout its history.
The popularity of lust as a sin can be attested by the fact that more gets written in condemnation of it than for just about any other sin. It's also just about the only one of the Seven Deadly Sins which people today, including Christians, continue to regard as sinful. We regularly hear people complain about "inappropriate" sexual behavior, but when was the last time a Christian leader spoke out against pride, envy, gluttony, or even anger?
In some places, it seems that the entire spectrum of moral behavior has been reduced to various aspects of sexual morality and concern with maintaining sexual purity. This is especially true when it comes to the Christian Right - it's not without good reason that nearly everything they say about "values" and "family values" involve sex or sexuality in some form.
Lustful people, those guilty of committing the deadly sin of lust, will be punished in hell by being smothered in fire and brimstone. There doesn't appear to be much connection between this and the sin itself, unless one assumes that the lustful spent their time being "smothered" with physical pleasure and must now endure being smothered by physical torment.
This image appeared in 1496 in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, published by Nicolas le Rouge in Troyes, France. It looks remarkably like it should be the being boiled in oil.
Punishing the Angry:
Punishment in Hell for the Deadly Sin of Anger is to be Dismembered Alive.
Anger (Wrath) is the sin of rejecting the Love and Patience we should feel for others and opting instead for violent or hateful interaction. Many Christian acts over the centuries (like the Inquisition or the Crusades) may seem to have motivated by anger, not love, but they were excused by saying the reason for them was love of God, or love of a person's soul - so much love, in fact, that it was necessary to harm them physically.
Condemnation of anger as a sin is thus useful to suppress efforts to correct injustice, especially the injustices of religious authorities. Although it is true that anger can quickly lead a person to an extremism which is itself an injustice, that doesn't necessarily justify condemning anger entirely. It certainly doesn't justify focusing on anger but not on the harm which people cause in the name of love.
It can thus be argued that the Christian notion of "anger" as a sin suffers from serious flaws in two different directions. First, however "sinful" it may be, Christian authorities have been quick to deny that their own actions have been motivated by it. The actual suffering of others is, sadly, irrelevant when it comes to evaluating matters. Second, the label of "anger" can be quickly applied to those who seek to correct injustices which ecclesiastical leaders benefit from.
Angry people, those guilty of committing the deadly sin of anger, will be punished in hell by being dismembered of alive. I don't see any connection between the sin of anger and the punishment of dismemberment, unless it's that dismembering a person is something an angry person would do. It also seems rather strange that people will be dismembered "alive" when they must necessarily be dead when they get to hell. Don't you still have to be alive in order to be dismembered alive?
This image appeared in 1496 in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, published by Nicolas le Rouge in Troyes, France. There are sharp knives lying about and people are being poked with sharp sticks, but that's it. Somehow, "Being Poked with Sharp Sticks for All Eternity" doesn't sound quite worthy of hell. Maybe this is really an image of the punishment in hell for those guilty of the Not So Deadly Sin of Grouchiness?
Punishing the Greedy:
Punishment in Hell for the Deadly Sin of Greed is to be Boiled Alive in Oil.
Greed (Avarice) is the desire for material gain. It is similar to Gluttony and Envy, but gain rather than consumption or possession is key. Aquinas condemned Greed because "it is a sin directly against one's neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them...it is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things."
Religious authorities today seem to rarely condemn how the rich in the capitalist (and Christian) West possess much while the poor (in both the West and elsewhere) possess little. This may be because greed in various forms is as basis for modern capitalist economics upon which Western society is based and Christian churches today are thoroughly integrated into that system. Serious, sustained criticism of greed would ultimately lead to sustained criticism of capitalism, and few Christian churches appear to be willing to take the risks that would come with such a stance.
Greedy people, those guilty of committing the deadly sin of greed, will be punished in hell by being boiled alive in oil for all eternity. I don't see a connection between the sin of greed and the punishment of being boiled in oil, unless of course they are being boiled in rare, expensive oil. In that case, maybe it serves them right.
This image appeared in 1496 in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, published by Nicolas le Rouge in Troyes, France
Punishing the Slothful:
Punishment in Hell for the Deadly Sin of Sloth is to be Thrown into a Snake Pit.
Sloth is the most misunderstood of the Seven Deadly Sins. Often regarded as mere laziness, it is more accurately translated as apathy. When a person is apathetic, they no longer care about doing their duty to others or to God, causing them to ignore their spiritual well-being. Thomas Aquinas wrote that sloth "...is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds."
Condemning sloth as a sin functions as a way to keep people active in the church in case they start to realize how useless religion and theism really are. Religious organizations need people to keep active to support the cause, usually described as "God's plan," because such organizations don't produce anything of value which would otherwise invite any sort of income. People must thus be encouraged to "volunteer" time and resources on pain of eternal punishment.
The slothful, people guilty of committing the deadly sin of sloth, are punished in hell by being thrown into snake pits. As with the other punishments for deadly sins, I really don't see a connection between sloth and snakes. Why not put the slothful in freezing water or boiling oil? Why not make them get out of bed and go to work for a change?
This image appeared in 1496 in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, published by Nicolas le Rouge in Troyes, France.