Saturday, September 4, 2010

Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and their Remedies

By Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung, 205 pages, Brazos Press.

Though this may seem like a depressing topic, Deyoung shows how Christianity, and therefore its teachings on the virtues and vices, has an optimistic, hope-filled world view. When we learn about the vices, and how they operate in our own lives, we can overcome them.

Vice and sin refer to different things: vice to a general disposition or behavioral habit, and sin to an act. Vices play such a large role in our lives because they are often hidden under layers of our personality and behavior. Sloth, for instance, tempts us away from our Christian, spousal, family, and other relationship duties. We become restless, and look for greener fields. This restlessness, a major component of contemporary living, can result in workaholism. Deyoung paints an interesting picture of this vice, showing how it doesn't mean the same as laziness.

While Deyoung introduces us to the fullness of the Christian tradition, citing authors such as Thomas Aquinas and Evagrius of Ponticus, Glittering Vices is accessible to anyone with a curiosity in these things. She weaves together the theology and ethics surrounding these sinful dispositions, yet doesn't become overly therapeutic, as is the tendency nowadays.

Another strength of Glittering Vices is the challenge to contemporary secular, materialist culture. The author fearlessly applies Christianity's teachings to today: "[G]reed is such a commonplace part of everyday life that it is hardly counted as a sin anymore. The idea that greed is the necessary psychological fuel for a capitalist and consumer economy is only the most recent way to justify it."

Nevertheless, our post-Christian society, Deyoung notes, retains a strong memory of Christian teachings, and refers to the vices often, but often in a mocking way. Marketers tease consumers to find inner fulfillment through greed and "retail therapy," for instance.

Yet the author points to the very serious spiritual condition that such a habit engenders: “The hallmark of well-entrenched greed, then, is a willingness to use people to serve our love of money, rather than the use of money to serve our love for people.” In other words, echoing the teaching of John Paul II on economics, she writes: "[A]varice moves us to betray one another's humanness."

All of the vices lead us to this betrayal or to the betrayal of God's love for us. Deyoung bases her optimism on the Christian tradition's alternative virtues to the terrible vices. Tithing can counter the sin of greed, and chastity the sin of lust. Chastity is thus good rather than shaming or prudish: "Chastity preserves and protects and paves the way for wholeness in all our relationships all the time."

The Church needs theologians like Deyoung who can truthfully, fearlessly read the signs of the times and can prophetically speak against modern vice. While she relies heavily on the age-old Judeo-Christian tradition, Glittering Vices shows how the world, still sinful and in need of redemption, is as hungry as ever for the truth about itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment