Classically, Christianity has listed seven sins as “deadly” sins, meaning that almost everything else we do which is not virtuous somehow takes its root in one these congenital propensities. These are the infamous seven: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.
In spiritual literature the first three – pride, greed and lust – get most of the ink and attention. Pride is presented as the root of all sin, Lucifer’s primordial defiance of God as forever echoed in our own lives: “I will not serve!” Greed is seen as the basis for our selfishness and our blindness towards others, and lust has often been given the ultimate notoriety, as if the Sixth Commandment were the only commandment.
Not to deny the importance of these, but I suspect that the sin which most commonly afflicts us and is not much mentioned in spiritual literature is wrath: that is, anger and hatred. I venture to say that most of us operate, however unconsciously, out of anger, and this shows itself in our constant criticism of others, in our cynicism, in our jealousy of others, in our bitterness and in our inability to praise others. And unlike most of our other sins, anger is easy to camouflage and rationalise as virtue.
At one level, anger often rationalises itself as justified indignation over the foibles, stupidity, egotism, greed and faults of others: “How can I not be angry given what I see every day!” Here anger shows itself in our constant irritation and in our quickness to correct, criticise, and make a cynical remark. Conversely, we’re very slow to praise and affirm. Perfection then becomes the enemy of the good, and since nothing and no one is perfect, we’re always in critical mode and we see this as a virtue rather than for what it in fact is, namely, an inchoate anger and unhappiness inside ourselves.
But our unhappy cynicism isn’t the biggest problem here. More seriously, anger too often parades itself as godly virtue, as righteousness, as prophecy, as a healthy, divinely inspired militancy for truth, for a cause, for virtue, for God. And so we define ourselves as “holy warriors” and “vigilant defenders of truth”, taking justification in the popular (though false) conception that prophets are angry people on passionate fire for God.
However, there’s a near infinite distance between true prophetic anger and the anger that today commonly parades itself as prophecy. Daniel Berrigan, in his criteria for prophecy, submits (rightly) that a prophet is someone who takes a vow of love, not of alienation. Prophecy is characterised by love aching for reconnection, not anger pushing for separation.
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