The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

Honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. St Thomas says, Man seeks, according to a certain measure, to have external riches, in so far as they are necessary for him to live in keeping with his condition of life. Wherefore it will be a sin for him to exceed this measure, by wishing to acquire or keep them immoderately. This is what is meant by covetousness, which is defined as “immoderate love of possessing.” (S.T. II, IIae, q. 118 art 1) It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and then if we get more we want more still.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. It’s the other guy who’s greedy.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other one we could be driving. So even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? It’s a good idea to have something saved up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy-day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

Like all of the seven deadly or capital sins, greed sees many other sins flow from it. St. Thomas lists a number of these sins, which he calls the “daughters of greed.” They are: fraud, lying, perjury, dissatisfaction (restlessness), violence, and hardheartedness.  (see, S.T. II, IIae, q. 118 art 8). For, as St Thomas says, greed can create in us a kind of insensibility to mercy. Since by greed we adopt a certain passion to acquire and possess, often rooted in a kind of fear. Thus we focus unreasonably on our needs and do not advert to the needs of others. Greed can therefore lead individuals and nations to a hardheartedness and cruelty or violence in order to possess what we do really even need. It can lead us to be will to lie, or commit fraud for financial gain. Finally, as Thomas notes, greed makes us restless and anxious since, whatever we have it is never enough. Further, despite its false promises, wealth does not bring peace, it increases our anxiety. As regards this, Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners. (Eccl 5:12-13)

Of the virtues that are medicine for greed surely generosity is the chief virtue, followed closely by gratitude. For indeed, we already have so much fro which to be grateful and when our focus is there a kind of joy permeates our soul that makes us more generous and kind to others. Another virtue that is key is trust and Faith in God. For, when we trust God through faith we are less concerned about the needs of tomorrow, Providence will provide. This is turn assists the fruitful virtue of peace. Mercy and love are also virtues that open us to the needs of others.  And as always, prudence will assist us in knowing the measure of what we really need and what is excessive.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I may or should earn nor how much I may or should give away. I am referring to a personal, moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs, but still I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. There’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

Pride is a sin that is so pervasive, runs so deep within us, that we often don’t even sense it is there. Not only is it a sinful drive in itself, it also plays a role in every other sin we commit. Pride is the sin we most share with Satan and the fallen angels. Satan refused to serve God or to submit to His plan; these are strong tendencies in every human person as well. Satan planned his strategy well as he tempted Eve. You will be like God, he told her. Both Eve and Adam falsely reasoned that in order to be free they should not be told what to do; they should do as they pleased. They claimed the right to determine good and evil for themselves rather than trusting God. This prideful pronouncement has gone forth from human hearts ever since: “I will not be told what to do.”

Let’s take a brief look at the primordial sin of pride.

I. The Definition of Pride – Pride is inordinate esteem for one’s own excellence. It is a habit or vice that disposes us to think more of ourselves than we ought. There is a proper esteem we should have for ourselves, but it is rooted in an appreciation for the gifts we have received from God.

Humility, the virtue that is opposed to pride, is not a hangdog disdain for ourselves; it is a reverence for the truth about who and whose we are. We do have gifts, but they are gifts, gifts that God has given us. These gifts are usually given to us through others. We should be humbly grateful for the gifts and talents that God has given us. In contrast, pride sets aside proper and grateful esteem in favor of excessive esteem that is often self-referential and unappreciative of what God and others have enabled us to become.

On the one hand, pride is one particular vice, sinful in itself. On the other hand, it is a more general vice that is involved directly or indirectly in most other sins. Pride plays an especially large role in sins of malice. Sins of malice are those in which one directly and defiantly refuses to obey God, or refuses to be told what to do, or willfully insists that one knows better than God, the Church, or those entrusted with one’s instruction and guidance. Pride plays a more indirect role in sins of weakness. Sins of weakness are those in which one acts sinfully not so much out of defiance as out of a weak inability to do what one admits is right. Pride may be more indirectly present through careless neglect of growing in virtue or failure to seek God’s help.

Pride is directed not only at God but also at our neighbor. There are times when we refuse to submit to the instruction or authority of others who rightfully have that position. There are other times when we refuse to admit that others have gifts and abilities that we do not possess and that we may in fact need in order to be completed. Further, we sometimes refuse to admit that others are just better at certain things than we are. In this way, pride is both impoverishing and isolating.

II. The Distinctions Regarding Pride – In modern English usage as well as in pagan philosophy, the word “pride” can have a positive meaning. The pagan philosophers often thought of pride as a good thing. Before it becomes sinful, pride inspires us to strive not merely for the ordinary but for loftier things. In this sense, pride pushes us to be more than we currently are; it inspires effort.

The use of the word “pride” in a positive sense is much less common in Christian moral theology, which typically speaks of pride only as a vice; it categorizes striving for the difficult but possible under the virtues of fortitude and hope.

Note that pride is not the same as vanity. Vanity actually shows some humility because in manifesting it, one shows the need for the admiration of another. For the same reason, pride is also not the same as pleasure at being praised.

St. Gregory lists four types of pride:

  1. Thinking that one’s good is from oneself
  2. Thinking that one’s good is from God but that it is as a consequence of one’s own merits
  3. Boasting of excellence that one does not possess
  4. Despising others and wishing to appear the sole possessor of what one has (this is related to the sin of envy)

III. The Dangers of Pride – The central effect of pride is to push God to the periphery of our moral, spiritual, and temporal existence. God is either shunned directly or becomes increasingly irrelevant to us. Man necessarily moves to the center and, even more egotistically, I move to the center. If God exists at all to the prideful person, it is only to gratify his pleasures and confirm his preconceived notions.

Having moved God to the periphery, the prideful person focuses more on his own power and exaggerated notions of control. Money, prestige, power, access, and possessions become his focus. It is himself on whom he relies, not God.

This of course is the height of foolishness because no human being can save himself. The relegation of God to the margins of our life is the chief danger of pride because He alone can save us. It is said that pride looks down, but no one can see God except by looking up. Pride turns us inward and downward!

Because pride involves entertaining the illusion of self-sufficiency and omits or minimizes God, it can be a serious or mortal sin. However, it is frequently not mortal, as that would require a conscious and fully willed discounting of God. Most individual acts of pride are venial by reason of this deficiency of awareness or full consent of the will.

Even though culpability may be less than mortal, the harm caused by marginalizing God cannot be overstated. The damage grows both individually and collectively until the most foolish things become daily fare. Further, a culture dominated by people who “forget” that God sees all and that they will have to render an account to Him will suffer increasingly from tyrannical, vicious, and destructive behaviors. Such a culture is dominated in growing measure by those who exercise little or no restraint on their behavior and who act imperiously — even despotically.

Pride can get very dark very quickly because it involves a direct turning away from God. In this sense pride is the first and worst of all sins.

So serious is pride that, as a remedy, God allows us to fall into other sins, especially those of the flesh. Thus, though God does not cause acts of fornication, drunkenness, or gluttony in us, He often permits their stubborn presence in order to save us from pride, which is a more serious sin. Sins of the flesh, especially those related to sexuality, often bring great shame, which is related to humility. And though it is strong medicine, God permits it in order to save us from the sin of pride, which is even more deadly.

IV. The Disease of Pride Pride is the source of many other sins. Not only is it their source, it is in those sins. Pride conquers at the root because it conquers the heart of man and disposes him to the other capital sins. St. Gregory does not even account pride as a capital sin, for it is the mother of them all!

A widespread modern form of pride, even among believers, is the reduction of God from the Holy One to a “harmless hippie” or a doting Father. Further, the awareness of final judgment and that we will one day have to render an account to God is not a significant factor in the thinking of most moderns. God is trivialized and man is exalted. To many, God exists to please and validate them on their own terms; His role is to affirm and console (but never challenge) them. In a certain sense, the ugliest and most self-serving form of pride is refashioning God in our own image. Making your own god and worshipping it used to be called “idolatry.”

Today, many assert the right to fashion their own god: the god within, the god of their own understanding. This is pride writ large and ugly. It is idolatry, somewhat veiled, but idolatry just the same; it is a violation of the First Commandment. Such pride cries out for correction and punishment. Yes, pride is ugly — a deadly disease.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

An Overview of the Seven Deadly Sins

Do you know what the Seven Deadly Sins are? It is valuable to name and begin to understand these deep drives of sin within us because the more we do so the more we can grow in self-knowledge. Further, it helps us to “know their moves” and gain mastery over them. As they stir deep within us we can recognize evidence of this and begin to take greater authority over them.

Too many Christians know little about twisted nature of sin. They just know they’re a little (or very!) messed up and can’t seem to figure out why. Have you ever gone to the doctor, not knowing what was wrong with you, and left feeling better just because you finally knew that what ailed you had a name and a cure? Being able to name our demons is an essential part of growth and healing.

Here are the Seven Deadly Sins, with a brief description of each:

  • Pride – the quality of loving and esteeming oneself more than is proper and at the same time denigrating the goodness of others
    • Pride also stirs us to reject the lawful authority of others, including God, over us and to refuse appropriate submission.
  • Greed – excessive desire for wealth and possessions
    • It is not wrong to desire what we need, but through greed we acquire far beyond what is reasonable and fail to be generous. Through greed we can also come to see the things of this world as more precious than the things of Heaven. Greed has been well described as the insatiable desire for more.
  • Lust – excessive or inappropriate desires or thoughts of a sexual nature
    • It is not wrong to experience sexual desire per se but Lust moves this to become excessive (all that matters), or for the object of it to be inappropriate (g. sexually fantasizing about someone other than a spouse). More broadly, lust is thought of as an excessive love of others that makes the love of God secondary.
  • Anger – inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and wrath
    • It is not always wrong to experience anger, especially in the presence of injustice. But anger here is understood as a deep drive which we indulge and wherein we excessively cling to angry and hateful feelings for others. This kind of anger most often seeks revenge.
  • Gluttony – overindulgence in or overconsumption of anything to the point of waste.
    • We usually think of gluttony in terms of food and drink, but it can extend to other areas as well. This sin usually leads to a kind of laziness and self-satisfaction that allows little room for God and the spiritual life. It may also cause us to be less able to help the poor.
  • Envy – sorrow or sadness at the goodness or excellence of another person because one believes it makes him appear to be less so.
    • If I envy someone I want to diminish or undermine his excellence. Note that envy is not the same as jealousy. If I am jealous of you I want what you have. In contrast, if I am envious of you, I want to diminish or destroy what is good or excellent in you. St. Augustine called envy the diabolical sin because of the way it seeks to eliminate excellence and goodness in others.
  • Sloth – sorrow or sadness at the good things God wants to do in one’s life
      • Most people think of sloth as laziness, but it is really an avoidance of God. In sloth, I avoid God because I fear or dislike what He can do for me. Some people avoid God through laziness, but others avoid Him by becoming workaholics, claiming that they are too busy to pray, to attend Mass, or to think about spiritual things.

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: An Overview of the Seven Deadly Sins

Samson And Delilah As Seen in Cartoon – Or a Parable on the Wages of Lust and Power

Samson and Delilah – Pompeo Batoni (1766)

The video below is a dramatization (sort of) of the story of Samson and Delilah as well as a commentary on lust and power. In case you would like to review the story of Samson and Delilah, CLICK HERE.

As the video opens, two superheroes are summoned to an emergency. They rush to the scene, but in a reckless fashion, and a great crash occurs. And here is a symbol for pride, for too often we rush headlong into solving problems, but often with little concern for other problems we may create in the process. For example, our quest to “end poverty in our time” has resulted more in the demise of the family; our quest to liberate the world from tyranny (through violence, drone strikes, and war) has led more often to inciting even more violence, and to the rise of new villainies.

After the crash, the superheroes seek to blame each other for the accident. And here is an image for our tendency to shift blame and avoid personal responsibility. We speak endlessly of our rights and the freedom to do as we please, but we want none of the responsibility. And of course any consequences are someone else’s fault.

There then ensues a great conflict between them to wrest control of the situation. And here is an image for power and the desire to overpower others. It merely serves to usher in a brutal and deadly struggle—one in which ultimately no one can win. Rather, all suffer devastating loss. Even victory is brief before the cycle of violence repeats.

Our male superhero, let’s call him Samson, seems to have the upper hand in the conflict. But the female superhero, let’s call her Delilah, is not to be undone and seeks to overcome Samson through her charms. And here is lust. For Samson, whatever his strengths, has a fatal flaw that destroys many men—lust. And as a result of it, many men (and women) and have ruined their lives. They’ve brought on poverty, STDs, abortion, teenage pregnancy, shattered dreams, broken families, and broken hearts.

The end of both of these superheroes is death and destruction. For pride, irresponsibility, unrestrained power, and lust unleash only devastation, destruction, and death—both individually and collectively.

In the biblical story, though Delilah “won,” it was only for a moment. And so it is with every worldly victory; it is temporary at best. Only heavenly victory and treasure stored up there will prevail. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Samson And Delilah As Seen in Cartoon – Or a Parable on the Wages of Lust and Power

Wise Men, Flattering, May Deceive Us

Judas Maccabeus was Handel’s most famous oratorio during his lifetime, more popular even than the Messiah. There are many wonderful moments in it, especially its bold and brave choruses. Written in 1746, it covers the biblical events of 170–160 B.C., when Judea was ruled by the Seleucids and the people were compelled to worship Zeus. Some resisted; others obeyed. The priest Mattathias went to the hills and gathered others who were willing to fight for their faith. This is all recounted in the First Book of Maccabees in the (complete) Catholic Bible. The words to Judas Maccabeus largely paraphrase the biblical text and were written by Thomas Morell.

Of all the arias in the oratorio, I’ve often thought that this one should be more well known, due to its keen reminders to us:

Wise men, flattering, may deceive us;
With their vain, mysterious art;
Magic charms can ne’er relieve us,
Nor can heal the wounded heart.
But true wisdom can relieve us,
Godlike wisdom from above;
This alone can ne’er deceive us,
This alone all pains remove
.

It’s a simple teaching, but so easily forgotten. In a world of false prophets and hucksters with empty promises of what are at best passing comforts, we need to recognize that we are easily deceived. In fact, we seem to enjoy being deceived more than we’d probably like to admit.

Flattery refers to excessive and insincere praise, especially praise given to another in order to further one’s own interests. It is used to beguile or to gain another person’s attention. It is likely of Germanic origin, stemming from a word that meant to stroke or caress repeatedly.

Many, from marketers to politicians to ideologues, seek to ingratiate themselves to us in order to sell products, ideas, or philosophies. The ideologues, especially, try to present themselves as great humanitarians, caring more than others do. They use euphemisms such as choice, progress, death with dignity, and tolerance, so as to stroke us to sleep, to beguile us, to hide the ugly reality (often the death of other human beings) of what these things produce.

So easily do they deceive us. I have noted in other posts that the root of the word deceived lead to the definition “to be picked up and carried off.” The image that comes to mind is that of limp prey in the mouth of a lion as it is carried off to be consumed.

Strangely, we often seem to like being deceived. Sometimes lies and euphemism help to hide uglier realities we would rather not face. It’s as if we say to the flatterers and liars, “Please lie to me. It’s just too much trouble to look at what’s really going on behind the veiled language.”

The text of the oratorio speaks of vain, mysterious art. Something that is vain is ultimately empty on the inside even if on the outside all seems wonderful and in good order.

The phrase mysterious art does not necessarily refer to magic, but to that which is unknown. Some flatterers like to use fancy terms, photos, movies, colorful graphs, and the like to impress us with their knowledge or to mesmerize us so that we dare not question or protest what they say.

However, as the text of the oratorio goes on to say, none of this can really help us. There may be momentary comforts, but soon they are gone. Satan (and to a large degree, the world) promises happiness now, but the bill comes later. In contrast, God often asks for sacrifice, discipline, and perseverance through difficulty up front and then lets us reap the reward later. Indeed, the cross produces glory far beyond the sufferings it brings: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor 4:17).

The oratorio goes on to teach that our wounded hearts need more than relief; they need healing, which only godlike wisdom from above can accomplis. Why? God Himself tells us why:

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind (Jer 17:9-10).

To find healing, go to God and to His revealed Word and sacred teachings. He knows your heart because He made you. He knows what will really heal and nourish your heart. Be not deceived and mesmerized by false prophets, hucksters, and merchants of the mediocre; God alone can fill the God-sized space in your heart. Only God, who made us for Himself, can satisfy our longings.

Enjoy the aria!

A Reminder that Fornication is a Serious Sin that Can Exclude Us From Heaven

The epistle from Monday’s daily Mass (30th Week of the Year) contains an admonition against unchastity. This grave warning is essential in times like these, when many call good or “no big deal” what God calls sinful. This is especially true in the realm of sexuality; entire sectors of society not only tolerate but even celebrate sexual practices that Scripture calls gravely sinful and that will lead to Hell if not repented of. Homosexual acts, fornication, and adultery cannot be considered allowable by any Catholic or any person who sincerely accepts Scripture as the Word of God. Even those who do not share our faith should be able to observe the damage these acts cause: they spread disease, harm marriages and families, subject children to less-than-ideal households (e.g., single mother/absent father), and lead to abortion.

In today’s post I will focus on the sin of fornication and present the clear biblical teaching against it. Sadly, many Catholics report that little to nothing is heard from the pulpit or in the classroom about this issue. The hope in this post today is to present a resounding, biblical trumpet call to purity that leaves no doubt as to the sinfulness of sex before marriage. Scripture is clear: fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That is to say, fornication is a mortal sin and those who do not repent of it will go to Hell.

The usual conditions for mortal sin apply (grave matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will). In most situations, these conditions are met. Over the years I have met with many sexually active couples preparing for marriage and have never found them to be surprised that I rebuke them for this. They know it is wrong; the voice of God echoes in their consciences. As for consent of the will, although some fall occasionally in a weak moment, consistent fornicating with no measures taken to prevent it (e.g., not cohabitating) is not weakness; it is sinful neglect of prudence and common sense.

We are in a sinfully confused cultural setting in which many either celebrate or make little effort to avoid what God calls serious sin. The Church must not lack clarity, yet pulpits and classrooms have often been silent. This has led to parents themselves to be silent—and silence is often taken as tacit approval.

Fornication cannot be approved of. It is sinful and excludes unrepentant sinners from Heaven. Our charity for souls compels our clarity about the grave sinfulness of premarital sex.

The following passages from the New Testament clearly condemn fornication and other unclean or impure acts. The gravity and clarity of such condemnations are helpful in the sense that they help us to take such matters seriously and steer clear of them. However, the condemnations should not be seen in isolation from God’s mercy, as He never fails to forgive those who come to Him with a humble and contrite heart. God hates sin, but He loves sinners and is full of mercy and compassion for them. This mercy must be accessed through repentance, however.

There is a general requirement for sexual purity.

Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or crude joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No fornicator, no impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with worthless arguments. These are sins that bring God’s wrath down upon the disobedient; therefore, have nothing to do with them (Ephesians 5:3-7).

Unrepentant fornicators are excluded from the kingdom.

The one who sat on the throne said to me, “See I make all things new!” Then he said, “Write these matters down for the words are trustworthy and true!” He went on to say: “These words are already fulfilled! I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. To anyone who thirsts I will give to drink without cost from the spring of life-giving water. He who wins the victory shall inherit these gifts and he shall be my son. As for the cowards and traitors to the faith, the depraved and murderers, the fornicators and sorcerers, the idol-worshipers and deceivers of every sort—their lot is the fiery pool of burning sulphur, the second death!” (Revelation 21:5-8)

Happy are they who wash their robes so as to have free access to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates! Outside are the dogs and sorcerers, the fornicators and murderers, the idol-worshipers and all who love falsehood. It is I Jesus who have sent my angel to give you this testimony about the Churches (Rev. 22:14-16).

No fornicator, no impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph 5:5).

I warn you, as I have warned you before: those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God! (Gal 5:21)

Sins of the flesh crush the spirit within us.

My point is that you should live in accord with the Spirit and you will not yield to the cravings of the flesh. The Flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; the two are directly opposed. This is why you do not do what your will intends. If you are guided by the spirit you are not under the law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, bickering jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I have warned you before: those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God! (Galatians 5:16-21)

Even our thought life is summoned to purity.

You have heard the commandment “You shall not commit adultery.” What I say you to is, Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts. If your right eye is your trouble, gouge it out and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna. Again, if your right hand is your trouble, cut it off and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna (Matthew 5:27-30).

From the mind stem evil designs—murder, adulterous conduct, fornication, stealing, false witness, blasphemy. These are the things that make a man impure (Matt. 15:19-20).

Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. All these evils come from within and render a man impure (Mark 7:21).

Sexual impurity is a form of worldliness and idolatry.

Put to death whatever in your nature is rooted in earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires and that lust which is idolatry. These are sins which provoke God’s wrath (Colossians 3:5-6).

My body is not my own to do with merely as I please.

Can you not realize that the unholy will not fall heir to the Kingdom of God? Do not deceive yourselves: no fornicators, idolaters, or adulterers, no sodomites, thieves, misers, or drunkards, no slanderers or robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you have been washed, consecrated, justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. Do you not see that your bodies are members of Christ? Would you have me take Christ’s members and make them members of a prostitute? God forbid! Can you not see that the man who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? Scripture says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun lewd conduct. Every other sin a man commits is outside of his body, but the fornicator sins against his own body. You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own. You have been purchased at a price. So, glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:9-11, 15-20).

The call to Christian purity is not merely a human opinion; it is God’s declared truth. Further, sexual sin is a form of injustice.

Now my brothers, we beg and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, even as you learned from us how to conduct yourselves in a way pleasing to God—which you are indeed doing—so you must learn to make still greater progress. You know the instructions we gave you in the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you grow in holiness: that you abstain from sexual immorality, each of you guarding his member in sanctity and honor, not in passionate desire as do the Gentiles who know not God; and that each must refrain from overreaching or cheating his brother in the matter at hand; for the Lord is the avenger of all such things, as we once indicated to you by our testimony. God has not called us to sexual immorality but to holiness; hence whoever rejects these instructions rejects, not man, but God who sends the Holy Spirit upon you (I Thess. 4:1-8).

Fornication and other sexual sins are numbered among the more serious sins.

We know that the Law is good, provided one uses it in the way law is supposed to be used—that is, with the understanding that it is aimed, not at good men but at the lawless and unruly, the irreligious and the sinful, the wicked and the godless, men who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, fornicators, sexual perverts, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and those who in other ways flout the sound teaching that pertains to the glorious gospel of God—blessed be he—with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Fornication and adultery dishonor marriage.

Let marriage be honored in every way and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers (Heb 13:4).

Therefore, do not be deceived. Fornication is a serious sin, a mortal sin. It is a sin that excludes one who does not repent of it from Heaven. It offends God, harms marriage and the family, spreads disease, encourages abortion, is an injustice to children and society, and dishonors marriage. It merits strong punishment, as God’s Word declares.

Do not despair of God’s mercy but do repent. Mercy is accessed only through repentance. It is wrong—seriously wrong—to fornicate. Repent without delay.

On the Adolescent Fixation of the Modern West

Recently at the Synod on Youth, Archbishop Charles Chaput made the following observation:

Unfortunately, many “developed” countries today are actually “underdeveloped in their humanity. They’re frozen in a kind of moral adolescence; an adolescence which they’ve chosen for themselves and now seek to impose upon others.

I have written on this topic as well. What follows is largely taken from an article I first published on this blog in 2010. In it I wrote about the kind of teenage fixation that is evident in our culture.

Psychologists define fixation in the following way:

Fixation refers to a persistent focus of pleasure-seeking energies on an earlier stage of psychosexual development. A fixation occurs when an issue or conflict in a psychosexual stage remains unresolved, leaving the individual focused on this stage and unable to move onto the next.

I would like to argue that our modern culture seems to manifest many fixations that are typical of the teenage years. In fact, one way to describe our modern culture is to see it as developmentally like that of a teenager. Such a situation presents rather serious problems in terms of facing life with the necessary sobriety, seriousness, and maturity; it also means that there are many people in our culture who never grow up.

Here are some examples of what I see as a teenage mentality and a fixation on teenage issues.

Wanting all the rights but none of the responsibilities – As children begin to approach adulthood, it is not uncommon for them to declare to their parents that once they are 18 they are adults and therefore should be able to do as they please.

Adulthood does not magically happen at the age of 18. Rather, it happens as children move out, get a job, and pay their own bills. In other words, adulthood is about accepting and exercising responsibility for oneself. The teenage mentality claims the rights of adulthood (e.g., autonomy) without wanting to accept the concomitant responsibilities.

This is very often the case in our culture today. Strident claims are made regarding rights, but little is said of duties. Accepting responsibility for our actions is often cast aside by excuses that blame others: I’m not responsible because my mother dropped me on my head when I was two, or because grew up poor, or because I have ADHD. There can be legitimate explanations, but we seem to have made an art of it. Our culture has a hard time insisting that people take responsibility for their actions. Those who do suggest such things are often labeled insensitive and harsh.

Not only do many make excuses for their bad behavior but they often try to shift to focus to others, pointing out that they are worse: “Well what about him?”

Further, people increasingly expect others to provide for them what they ought to provide for themselves. Surely there are some basic needs that government and industry can and should provide, and there are those among us who truly cannot care for themselves, but the list of entitlements grows ever longer, and money seems to be no object.

All these behaviors tend to overemphasize rights while minimizing personal responsibility. I argue that this bespeaks a teenage mentality. An adult attitude recognizes the need to take responsibility for our own life, asking for help when we need, but not asking others to do for us what we can and should do for ourselves. An adult attitude also takes responsibility for the consequences of our decisions and actions, not trying to blame others.

Sexual immaturity – Teenagers experience a powerful sexual awakening and their bodies flood with hormones.

At first, they manifest a general silliness about sexuality; there is a lot of giggling and the relating of off-color jokes. Everything is thought of in terms of sex and many ordinary words and phrases are used that have secondary sexually related meanings. In short, there is a kind of obsession with sex.

Some teenagers begin to dress provocatively, “strutting their stuff.” Sadly, teenagers struggle with sexual misbehavior and some exhibit poor judgment about sexual matters. This is all the more prevalent today because we do not chaperone or oversee youth in the way we should. Neither do we teach them well about sexuality and modesty.

Today’s Western culture too often exhibits a teenage immaturity about sexuality. There is the incessant chatter about and exhibition of sex in movies, television, music, and books. There are off-color jokes. Many comedians devote much of their material to sex, speaking of it in demeaning and unedifying ways; sex seems to be one big joke.

There is great irresponsibility and poor judgment today among adults in the area sexual behavior: premarital sex, bearing children out of wedlock, abortion, adultery, and homosexual acts to name a few.

Further, many celebrate lewdness and sexual irresponsibility, often applying moral thinking more reminiscent of a college fraternity party than a truly thoughtful and responsible perspective.

A mature attitude accepts that sex is a beautiful and personal gift given to the married. It is holy and good and is an important part of life, but it is not the only thing there is. The obsession, the silliness, and the out-of-control quality exhibited in our culture bespeaks an immaturity that reminds one of untutored and uncorrected teenagers.

Aversion to Authority – As children grow into the teenage years they naturally begin to push the boundaries with parents and other authority figures.

Teenagers test limits and ask tough questions; this is not entirely bad. They are not little children any longer and increasing autonomy is often incrementally appropriate. However, teenagers also can go too far and be both disrespectful and disobedient. At times they engage in inappropriate power struggles with their parents and other elders, asserting that no one should tell them what to do. Some even go through periods of intense dislike of and contempt for their parents and any who would try to direct them.

So, too, our culture today struggles with the issue of authority. One of the geniuses of the American system of government is the balance of power. There is also the notion that elected officials should be held accountable. So, there is such a thing as healthy and vigorous debate and a proper limiting of the power of authority. However, some of the negative attitudes toward legitimate authority—not just government officials, but police, supervisors at work, and community leaders—seem a bit immature. Whispering behind their backs, dragging of feet, making ugly comments, and outright disrespecting authority figures all seem to be a bit teenage.

One might argue that it has always been this way, but there seems to have been a major uptick in this sort of behavior starting in the 1960s. Rock music helped to usher in overly negative attitudes about authority and that thinking has become widespread in our culture today.

An adult attitude respects the place of authority and the need for it. It does not fear authority but rather speaks sincerely, truthfully, and respectfully to those who have it.

The “It’s not fair!” Mentality – One of the most common cries of children and teenagers is that something isn’t fair; it is usually plaintive and self-serving.

When someone claims that something isn’t fair, it usually means he didn’t get what he wanted while someone else did. Basically, this cry show that it’s all about me.

Truth be told, life is not fair. Both my brothers were smarter than I was. Neither of them seemed to have to study much and they still got A’s while I had to struggle mightily just to pull down B’s and C’s—not fair! However, I had other gifts they did not. The bottom line is that each of us is dealt a set of cards and those are the ones we have to play. No one has the same cards.

In our culture today, this plaintive cry about a lack of fairness goes up frequently. The most troublesome version of it comes in relation to moral and doctrinal issues. The Church is often excoriated for her positions in ways like this: “Are you saying gays can’t get married? That’s not fair!” “Are you saying women can’t be ordained? That’s not fair!” “Are you saying that people who are dying can’t end their lives by euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide but rather must accept suffering? That’s not fair!” “Are you saying a woman has to carry her child to term and can’t abort? That’s not fair, especially considering that the man can usually just walk away.”

Again, notice that most of these claims of unfairness are rather egocentric: Something isn’t fair because I can’t do what I want.

An adult attitude accepts that life is not always fair. An adult attitude does fight against true injustice; not all of life’s inequities should be tolerated. However, a mature attitude distinguishes between matter of true justice and merely getting what one wants. The battle for true justice usually involves the needs of others not just personal or egocentric concerns.

So, I offer you this analysis. I do not say that everyone is equally afflicted with this mentality, but the big picture looks fairly adolescent to me. Recognizing it is the first step to correcting the tendency.

… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Eph 4:13-16).

This brief video shows the usual sitcom scenario: parents (especially fathers) are stupid and kids are smart and that it’s OK for them to be sassy, and disrespectful. After all it’s a teenage world.

On Bullies and Standing your Ground

There is a passage in the Sermon on the Mount that is often misunderstood:

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matt 5:39).

Many think this passage tells us that we should accept abuse—even death—at the hands of another. Pacifists often take the general advice of this passage and turn it into an absolute.

It is important to note that the attack described is not a deadly one. If it were, one might have an obligation to protect one’s life, even with deadly force if necessary. A slap on the cheek is not a mortal blow or even dangerous to one’s health. Rather, it is an attack on our dignity. It is not necessary to return insult for insult, even if we must protect our reputation.

Further, when the text says that we should not “resist,” it is important to understand the meaning of the word. The Greek word used is anthístēmi, which most literally means “to stand against.” Certainly, we are to resist evil, but we do not need to do so by returning blow for blow. The Lord advises us to stand our ground, neither becoming like our enemy by striking back, nor by running from him in fear. No, are to stand our ground (histemi) by looking him in the eye and saying, “I will not strike you back and become like you; neither will I flee from you and give your evil victory. You are going to have to live with me as I am.”

It is a kind of middle ground between fight and flight. We are to stand our ground before evil, remaining in our world of the Kingdom, not using the tactics of the kingdom of darkness.

Somehow this occurred to me when I watched this clip from The Andy Griffith Show, in which Barney Fife stands down two bullies who have refused to stop selling fruit illegally by the roadside: