Worship & Celebrations
Seven Deadly Social Sins
Rev. Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn
Mahatma Gandhi listed Seven Deadly Social Sins that he considered to be most spiritually damaging to humanity. His list is as relevant, if not more so today, than when he wrote it in October of 1925, his list is as follows:
- Politics without principle.
- Commerce without morality.
- Science without humanity.
- Knowledge without character.
- Wealth without work.
- Pleasure without conscience.
- Worship without sacrifice.
I personally find in these words, this list of seven deadly social sins a model for living a life with principle, ethics and personal dignity. I believe that these seven statements, beliefs if you will, have the ability to shape a just and ethical society both at home and in every other arena in which we find ourselves functioning. Much like our own Unitarian Universalist Principles, the seven deadly social sins create for us a frame work upon which to build our own larger and more complex framework of being, our own personal credos and patterns of behavior. Hopefully none of these words are new to you, but the pairing of these words into individual phrases, statements or sins as Gandhi called them may well be new. So I will reiterate them and then go through them one at a time and elaborate on their importance in the creation of a healthy society, at least as I see a healthy society.
The key to politics with principles, keeping our eyes on the objectives and not straying from that true course.
Politics without principle.
We have just come through a chaotic election season, and while I have my doubts about the use of principles; I know that without principles our political world is turned upside down and inside out. When we have politics without principle we have deceit and lies, we have individuals who seek to lift themselves up by using and abusing others.
I recently read an article about the changing generational culture of African nations. They described the current and past generations as Hippo Generations, slow moving and bogged down in the muck and mire of societal disease and dirt. Those abuses of policy and principle are not limited to Africa's countries, but are found around the world in government after government...unfortunately. Fortunately, the world seems to be bringing in a new generation, what has been called in Africa the Cheetah generation. The cheetah generation is fast moving, and precise as it ricochets across the landscape. The hope is that when things move quickly they must move with purpose and principle to get to their goals without loosing sight of the objective.
Which is the key to politics with principles, keeping our eyes on the objectives and not straying from that true course. Our president elect and his opponent ended their campaigns with speeches that demonstrated the importance of returning to civility and principle even when we get distracted from it for a time. Both candidates brought us back to the importance of having principles in our politics. I believe politics are not just about what happens on the national scene, but it is also about how we deal with one another. Politics are in the office, in the neighborhood and even right here in the church...it is important that we know what Principles we hold dear and live them in all the political circumstances of our lives.
Commerce without morality.
Without morality in commerce we are saying it is fine to cheat, lie, steal, and sell products that are not as advertised. In our country we have laws against what is called bait and switch, which basically means you are bringing someone to a store on false pretenses in order to sell them a product other than advertised. Luring people in under false pretences is unethical and therefore lacking in morality. There are many other important dimensions of morality in commerce. We live in a world where people are kidnapping, raping, and selling human beings. Trafficking in human beings, slaves, would have to rate at the high end of my list of ways in which commerce without morality continues to be harmful to our world.
in human slavery you must see another human as less than yourself, for how else could you deny another person their freedom.
In order to traffic in human slavery you must see another human as less than yourself, for how else could you deny another person their freedom. Commerce in weapons that kill and maim, commerce in pharmaceuticals that you knowingly supply to individuals when there are risk factors that out weigh the benefits, is commerce without morality. There are no limits to the ways in which merchants of one kind or another can find to take advantage of others. I would ask you however, to consider that the lack of morality in commerce can run both ways. If there were no market for slaves, no market for weapons, there would be no reason for anyone to trade in those commodities. In order to avoid commerce without morality we must make sure that each individual's circumstances are such that they need not stoop to levels that allow them to degrade themselves and others by seeking to find their financial well-being in immoral commerce.
Science without humanity.
Science without humanity is at the root of the battles that rage around both abortion and stem cell research. Individuals both fear and lack trust in one another's motives.Without trust in one another's humanity and motivation, it is natural to question the possibility of others using science for purposes that are less than humane. When you mix religious ideology into this arena you are sure to create conflict among those of differing views. Humanity in science to me means we are using science for the betterment of the human and world condition. For too many years we have used science to advance human desires without being concerned about the human consequences. This is challenging because the time it takes to know and understand the repercussions of our actions many not even be visible within the span of a single human generation.
Science with humanity is science that seeks to better human existence. In my eyes the issue of stem cell research is all about improving human existence. As long as the scientists keep humanity rather than technology and technological advances in sight then they will be working toward the betterment of society as a whole. When we allow ourselves to believe only in the worst possible outcomes or intended uses of science we are denying the scientists their humanity.
Stem cells come from many sources and abortions are necessary for many reasons. As non-scientists, it is faulty logic for us to legislate against human health and well being. As the child of a person who died from an orphan disease, I know that there is tremendous suffering that science and stem cell research has the potential to alleviate. I hope that if we trust our scientists to keep humanity in their work we will all benefit.
It is character that allows us the strength to do what is right, to hold ourselves and others accountable.
Knowledge without character.
Knowledge without character means that you can use your knowledge for harm and manipulation, it is character that allows us the the strength to do what is right, to hold ourselves and others accountable. Character also calls us to responsibility when we are wrong or to admit when knowledge has changed, and therefore our basis for decision making must change.
It was not wrong or lacking in character for people to doubt that the world was round before there was technology and exploration that proved otherwise. When however knowledge available changed and people chose to hold to their old views, so as to maintain status or stature, then there was a lack of character, a willingness to humble themselves enough to admit they were wrong. True character is a complicated thing that requires us to remain open to changes in and around us that will inform and continue the expansion of our knowledge base. Knowledge is not static and therefore true character must accept change if not welcome it.
Wealth without work.
This is one of my personal pet peeves, wealth without work. I believe that there are many who have attained wealth without work, by inheritance or corrupt practices who use their wealth only for personal gain and even personal excess. I refer to this aspect of wealth without work as a sense of entitlement....one had it because one is entitled to it, not because one had to strive for or attain any level of sacrifice in order to obtain it. Wealth without work often leads to an inability to comprehend the true meaning and value of one's possessions, or the labors of others. Just as, to use an old adage, 'one can not judge another person until you have walked a mile in that person's shoes or moccasins' you cannot appreciate the complexity and labor of another's work or life until you have experienced what it takes to live or work as they do.
Unfortunately, many children in our world seem to believe they do deserve things, and that those things should be given freely. Those same children discard things with no awareness of the struggles undergone by others to give them those items, or for still others to create those items. A fine example of this can be found on almost every college and university campus in America the day after a semester ends...students leave behind all kinds of things, from electronics to linens, furniture to personal fashions, only to return in a few months and do it all over again. We have created a disposable society, a society that has difficulty in really understanding that material goods have value. If possessions are so disposable it is because there is no understanding of the work necessary to attain the riches that are needed to acquire those items only when we pair wealth and work do we come to understand the value of our time, our endeavors and those of others, and gain the wisdom to save, and share rather than spend and waste.
Pleasure without conscience.
For me pleasure without conscience addresses many of the same concerns I find in wealth without work. When we expect to have luxury as a matter of course, as a matter of entitlement, with no effert expended to recieve or earn what we have, we tend to ignore the cost of our pleasure to the providers of basic services.Many people spend their entire careers laboring hard for minimum wages to indulge the pleasures of the wealthy who barely notice their existance. Often this means we do not give proper respect or value to those peoples lives and the work they do in the world.
The classic image of pleasure without conscience is the image of the invisible servant.
Pleasure without conscience is much of what has allowed drug lords, and drug dealers to do their work at the expense of others. It is also what allows the drug abuser to use without awareness of the sacrifice and chaos that it is necessary for their pleasure. The classic image of pleasure without conscience is the image of the invisible servant. Pleasure without conscience was an idea that seems outmoded in today's world. Certainly, as we start looking at what the costs of our advances as a society have been at the expense of our planet we see the real ramifications of our pleasures without conscience. Think about golf courses and the chemicals that are required to maintain them. Often times golf courses are sighted on what were beautiful lands, sometimes lands open to the public, or home to numerous other creatures, who as the lawns become progressively more manicured drive out and even poison those other creatures. We can not mask the horrors of our human failings. We must be honest on all levels in order to truly appreciate what it means to have pleasure with conscience.
Worship without sacrifice.
Sacrifice is a word we are hearing a lot lately. For me, worship without sacrifice means not being challenged, not having to put anything aside in order to be in community. As a minister, I often get to hear want people want, what they don't like, and what they need from a community of faith. For me, as a minister, worship is sacrifice, it means putting myself aside for the greater good of the community, it means having accepted a calling to serve rather than to be served.
Worship without sacrifice is what I learned about when I was studying art history. The Medicis and others thought worship was about their designs and desires, when in fact worship is about leaving space open for that which is greater than our selves, whether you believe that it is God or the Goddess, Nature or the joining together of many human souls. That which is greater than ourselves is essential to the health of worship. We must put aside ourselves, not at the expense of our individual well being but rather because we can become part of something much greater than any one begin alone can be when we join all of our hopes and dreams, visions and skills together.
May we embody the joys of life....
Politics with principle.
Commerce with morality.
Science with humanity.
Knowledge with character.
Wealth with work.
Pleasure with conscience.
Worship with sacrifice. Amen and Blessed be.