New Sins Are Signs of New Times

By Lizzie Buchen | March 12, 2008 1:15 pm

modern devilThe original seven deadly sins laid out by the Catholic Church—pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath, and sloth—are the classics of immorality, the same basic flaws humans have evinced since coming out of the trees (and, perhaps, even before). But in our booming, globalized, highly networked world, there are some new and very harmful errors at our disposal. And while the Vatican doesn’t have a Facebook page yet (unlike Discover), they do recognize that modern times call for modern vices.

In an interview headlined “New Forms of Social Sin,” Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, insisted that “new sins have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalization.” The list of “mortal sins,” as they have now been classified, came at the end of a week-long seminar in Rome that intended to deal with the dismal turnout at recent confessions. Seems logical: If a wider range of souls are in danger of eternal damnation, more will seek absolution. So, what are the new ways to fall from grace?

Girotti devotes some space to a familiar type of don’t-treat-your-brother-poorly admonitions—like social injustice that causes poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”—but many of the new rules concern modern science, stuff that the sixth-century pope Gregory the Great never dreamed of.


Girotti, as quoted in the TimesOnline, insists that “you offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos.” In other words, pollution, genetic manipulation, and stem cell research (at least that which destroys embryos) have now made it to the list, the latter two because their “outcome is difficult to discern and control.” He goes on to condemn “certain violations of the fundamental rights of human nature,” including birth control and research on human beings.

He also takes issue with doing or dealing in drugs, as they “weaken the mind and obscure intelligence”—which is true in many circumstances, although marjiuana (see also here), LSD, ecstasy, nicotine (and here), and alcohol (see also here) have all been shown to be beneficial at times.

Image credit: PDR via Creative Commons

  • john p

    Nice job, Discover. I’m not religious, but it’s still VERY refreshing to finally see a write-up of this story that didn’t spend the whole time making fun of the Catholic church. These days, I feel like making fun of religion is BO-RING.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Amos Kenigsberg

    Thanks, John. Seems to me that the evolution/creation debate looms large over the current interaction of science and religion, and some people on both sides tend to react with a spiteful, wide-reaching hostility. It’s a foolish trope that limits understanding and progress—and is boring on top of that.

  • they have it coming

    there’s so much hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness in religion, they really bring on the hostility themselves. What sort of “progress” can come out of letting them get away with positions against homosexuality, birth control, and stem cell research? and what about the *huge* amount of wealth that the church has, as you linked in the post? such hypocrisy!

  • Pingback: modern times

  • Jeremy

    unbelievable.

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