the faith hope

an ongoing exploration of a thankless subject

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Location: Adelaide, Australia

Founding secretary of the Urbane Society for Sceptical Romantics, a club I take very seriously indeed.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

seven deadlies

In his critique of Atran and Norenzayan's article mentioned in the last post, George Ainslie made a reference to Christianity's seven deadly sins. He was arguing that self-control is central to religion, as for example only two of the seven deadlies can be described as more harmful to others than self-harming (avarice and wrath). Maybe so, but I couldn't help but wonder about the Christian nature of this famous seven, as I can't recall coming across them in my Bible reading.

The reason being that they're extra-Biblical - while of course being a development of the basic and vague concept of sin found in the Bible. There's a fascinating potted history here. Not that this negates Ainslie's argument in any way - basically he's arguing that A & N's attempt to characterise or define religion (the best attempt I've encountered so far, I must say) is inadequate because it doesn't sufficiently emphasise the self/social control element he claims is common to religions. A & N focus largely on the ease of existential anxiety offered by belief in supernatural, protective entities. My own Biblical readings make me wonder about this self-control role, though with the writings of Paul, which I'm just beginning to study, this kind of thing, and the behaviour of a proper Christian in general, assumes a greater prominence. And it should also be remembered, as with the seven deadlies, that religious morality can reside elsewhere than in the particular religion's sacred texts (in which case it's often an amalgam of purely religious and broader cultural effects).


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