7 Sins, 7 Virtues: Relevant Or Not?

Yes, No?

In the 1995 crime drama, Se7en, directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey, two detectives hunt a serial killer who commits murders based on the seven deadly sins—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. As the movie evolves, the detectives find themselves becoming part of the plan, playing into the serial killer’s design in a way that both eludes and disturbs them. And as Brad Pitt’s character—David Mills— with all his virtues comes face-to-face with killer “John Doe,” Doe justifies his actions by arguing with Mills about the innocence of his victims. “We see a deadly sin on every street corner,” Doe says, “in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it’s common, it’s trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well not anymore.”

Are Virtues Enough?

Disturbing as this character is, there is something compelling in his level of conviction, his certainty that he is making the world better by ridding it of sinful hypocrites—or maybe that is simply his justification for being a murderer. When Dante wrote about the seven deadly sins in his epic poem, he used them to separate Hell into various pits where sinners were punished based on what their greatest sin had been in life. He even went so far as to name contemporaries and assign them to the pit he thought they should end up in.

Thankfully, I think the current climate is one of tolerance and acceptance—generally, it seems that we would rather accept others than level that kind of judgment, and I would say that most of us are considered a lot more to be forgivable than the religious people of Dante’s time did. So in that world, the tolerant and accepting one I have just described (however naïvely), what role do the “deadly” sins and their countering virtues play?

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Relevance To Us Today

virtuesWhether you consider yourself to be religious or not, there is no denying the effect religion has had on the shape humanity has taken. Though they are not always the same, every culture has a set of standard morals that people are expected to abide by. These morals have almost always been informed by religious teachings in one way or another.

Personally, my moral compass is this: if it hurts someone else, do not do it. If it threatens someone else’s way of living, think hard. If it is beneficial to others, do what makes you uncomfortable. You will notice it leaves a lot of room for gray area, and in that I think it is very different from the kind of black and white morality often practiced by most major religions. I also think that it is that sense of absolutism that often drives people away.

So do I think that the vices and virtues are still relevant? I do, though maybe if more loosely defined than they once were. For example, if we think of the virtue chastity, the word itself may sound archaic, even if its meaning is still valued by many. But if the definition of chastity were expanded from sexual purity to mean discernment, temperance, and being genuine, it is easy to see how we still respect those qualities in others. The same practice can be done with envy, one of the sins—we encourage each other to be relentless in the pursuit of what we want, but those who meet their goals at the expense of others are still not well-liked.

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The role of the vices and virtues are critical in the shaping of our modern morality, even if many complain that it is much less stringent than it once was. Still, I consider that preferable to religious wars, John Doe killing anyone who does not appease his strict moral code, and repeating atrocities like the Salem Witch Trials or the Spanish Inquisition.

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2 thoughts on “7 Sins, 7 Virtues: Relevant Or Not?

  1. Gluttony (of healthy foods)… A sin or a virtue?!?! Hmmmmmm

    1. Ms Claudette

      You are too funny Gigi! LOL

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