Monday, March 10, 2008

normative consensus and the seven social sins

according to bloomberg news, the vatican has crafted a brand new list of seven social sins to complement the seven cardinal vices catalogued in the sixth century.

such lists can sometimes reveal changing conceptions of deviance and conformity and emerging areas of normative consensus or conflict. but this new list is way broader than, say, the ten commandments or even the most expansive criminal code. according to bishop gianfranco girotti,

"You offend God not only by stealing, taking the Lord's name in vain or coveting your neighbor's wife, but also by wrecking the environment, carrying out morally debatable experiments that manipulate DNA or harm embryos."

whoa! since i'm sort of in the business of carrying out morally debatable experiments, i'm hardly an unbiased observer. nevertheless, the seven new social sins are:

1. "Bioethical" violations such as birth control
2. "Morally dubious'' experiments such as stem cell research
3. Drug abuse
4. Polluting the environment
5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty

hmmm. these all look a bit like hubris to me -- as though the church is calling out modern men and women for tampering with god's plan for our bodies and our social and physical environment. i'm also seeing way too much overlap between the new list and the old one.* maybe i'm thinking like a lawyer, but wouldn't the church be safer in identifying the new sins as concrete representations of broad concepts identified centuries ago?

for example, i'd categorize excessive wealth and creating poverty as greed; drug abuse, pollution, and fostering inequality as gluttony; and, stem cell research as pride. i'm a little stuck on how to categorize birth control, but the harried father in me might define it as a combination of lust plus sloth.

in any case, i'm guessing that these seven social sins won't have the same legs as the seven cardinal vices. while it is relatively easy to gain social consensus against abstractions such as lust and gluttony, i'd expect a good bit more conflict over concrete behaviors such as drug use and birth control.

*the original seven deadly sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth.

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