Economics

The Sins of Affluence (and Effluents)

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Bloomberg reports that the Vatican has drawn up a list of "seven social sins" to complement the more traditional (and more fun) seven deadly sins. Farting, singing along with your iPod, and going on and on about your adorable children did not make the cut.

The seven 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

Clearly, there are some definitional problems here. When, for example, does drug use become drug abuse? Does it have to cause demonstrable problems, or does the Vatican agree with drug warriors the world over that any use of an illegal intoxicant automatically qualifies as abuse? And how do you know when your wealth is "excessive"? Does the dollar figure vary from country to country, and does it depend on how expensive your tastes are?

Several of these sins seem to overlap. Couldn't "bioethical violations" and "morally dubious experiments" be collapsed into one category? Then again, the Vatican shows admirable sensitivity to the hectic schedules of successful businessmen: If a wealthy entrepreneur fires an unproductive employee, he not only increases the efficiency of his business; he maximizes his sins as well, potentially committing 5, 6, and 7 simultaneously. And if his business is birth control devices or fetal stem cells, which he produces while generating pollution and snorting cocaine to compensate for his lack of sleep, he can be damned to Hell by lunchtime.

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  1. there are some definitional problems here

    Start with “god” and let me know what you come up with.

  2. So a guy walks into the ninth level of hell and sees the presidents of Pfizer, Merck and Bayer being gnawed on by Satan…

  3. Damn it!

    Now I’ve got to go to college in order to break these seven… stupid sin number 2.

    Nephilium

  4. Seems to me that you are always going to be doing one of these, no matter what. For instance, if you DON’T use birth control,(number one) you end up creating poverty (number 7). Of course, if everyone is a sinner, they need plenty of forgiveness, which means plenty of clergy dispensing absolution.

    It’s a great way to stay in business.

  5. And que the Anti-Catholic rhetoric.

  6. Uh, aren’t 5, 6 and 7 basically the same thing? Where’d the creativity go? These sins are so boring!

  7. This list is greatly over-simplified, I suspect the Bishop’s actual list makes more sense. For example, there’s a lot of stem cell research that the Church finds morally unobjectionable, but this list lumps it all in together.

    And really, who was ever tempted to “create poverty?” Steal stuff–been tempted. Make someone else poor just for fun? Not so much.

  8. There’s a reason why I’m not religious.

  9. Hey, these aren’t mortal sins. These are more pedestrian sins, it seems.

    “he can be damned to HellHeck by lunchtime.”

    Fixed.

  10. atrevete,
    No, in the Catholic Church (as in most religions) its okay to make yourself dirt poor, and even to ask others to support you in your poverty, just as long as you’re really goddamn miserable the whole time. Hell, religious orders take an oath of poverty.

  11. Say, this sounds like a job for the Rational Responders.

  12. I’m not a religious man, but I could go along with #7. Interestingly, avoiding the prior six sins can cause one to fall into the trap of committing #7.

  13. Another correction:

    “And que cue the Anti-Catholic spelling pendant rhetoric.”

    This list is unintentional self-parody. There’s no need for anti-Catholic rhetoric. Except, of course, for this paragraph, which is undeniably anti-catholic rhetoric.

  14. Nah, I just love making people poor.

  15. Every time I jerk off, I create millions of little souls that die miserably and alone, without money and comfort.
    I am SO going to hell.

  16. “These are more pedestrian sins, it seems”

    Then they should add crossing against the light.

  17. “Every sperm is sacred…”

  18. 7. Creating poverty

    Say goodbye to Mother Teresa’s sainthood.

  19. Where’s the one about sodomy? Where?

  20. 5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor

    So, I’ll be all the better for taking it easy with the collection plate then.

  21. Did the Vatican decide this morning that Catholicism wasn’t irrelevant enough?

  22. Did the Vatican decide this morning that Catholicism wasn’t irrelevant enough?

    They’re just responding to the stiff competition from the Church of England

  23. I’m waiting with baited breath for the Morgan Freeman serial-killer movie based on these.

  24. Everyone’s got jokes, but the truth is, this list really really really sucks for those who care what the Catholic Church actually has to say. Jacob notes the problem with defining drug abuse and I’d like to add the problem of defining pollution. By it’s very nature, all industry pollutes – the pollution laws we have on the books, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, ect.- all serve to place limits on pollution. I can’t imagine anything so ridiculous as committing a mortal sin by exceeding your regulatory discharge permit.

  25. “Raping children” didn’t make the list, how surprising.

  26. 5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor

    6. Excessive wealth

    7. Creating poverty

    The Vatican is a monument to excessive wealth, erected with the money of the poor.

    Mote. Eye. Etc.

  27. I’m not an economics expert, but it seems to me that 5 and 7 often defeat each other.

    Creating a flexible labor market lowers unemployment, but it tends to create a situation where there is going to be some inequality. Does the Vatican like unemployment?


  28. this list really really really sucks for those who care what the Catholic Church actually has to say

    Why would anyone but the most dimwitted of beleivers give a fuck about this list? Last I checked the original sins were spoken directly to Moses from god. Not written by some hack in a dark basement.

    The only way you would give this any weight is if you take you marching orders from the clergy without any critical thought whatsoever or you truly beleive that these come directly from god.

  29. economist | March 10, 2008, 2:32pm | #

    “Every sperm is sacred…”

    I think Maxwell House said it better

  30. Wait, I forget…what was that from the pro-religionists about religion not being social or political?

  31. 30 posts and nobody linked yet to George Carlin’s 10 Commandments? Shame on you! (Especially since the last paragraph is strongly emulating Carlin’s performance.)

  32. I can’t imagine anything so ridiculous as committing a mortal sin by exceeding your regulatory discharge permit.

    What about 3. Drug abuse?

    Is it really a mortal sin to consume some politicaly incorrect intoxicant as defined by a secular government.

  33. There’s just something about the Vatican saying excessive wealth is a sin that pegs my irony meter.

  34. “What about 3. Drug abuse?”

    Whenever I hear “drug abuse” labelled as a social sin, I wonder what the person really means, because with the war on some drugs / terrorism / brown people logic…. drug use = abuse.

    Is there a distinction between smoking a (as in one) joint or a couple of bong rips in the evening or downing a fifth of Jack Daniels? It is not made clear.

    /Incarceration – treatment industrial complex is the biggest war on some drugs propaganda machine, evar.

  35. There’s a reason why I’m not religious.

    Wow, religious stupidity must make you feel so very intelligent. I’m glad something’s working for you.

  36. This is more or less a phony story (or rather, it is based in reality, but the conlusions reached are phony):

    http://markshea.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html#546272895795692790

  37. What about 3. Drug abuse?

    Is it really a mortal sin to consume some politicaly incorrect intoxicant as defined by a secular government.

    To be fair, the sin is drug abuse, not illegal use of intoxicants. Illegal or not, a drug is abused if your use of it adversely affects other people, like getting so drunk you start widening the gap between rich and poor.

  38. Everyone’s got jokes, but the truth is, this list really really really sucks for those who care what the Catholic Church actually has to say.

    As one who cringes at some of the Catholic Church’s statements, but still values many of their philosophers and writers, I have to agree with you Garrett J.

    I wonder whether this is indeed an official pronouncement of the church or simply the silly mouth-off of a cardinal or bishop. The press has not been very good at distinguishing the two in the past.

  39. …or simply the silly mouth-off of a cardinal or bishop.

    Mind you, that the pope is merely the bishop of Rome.

  40. And que(sic) the Anti-Catholic rhetoric.

    If the church wasn’t making it so easy….I mean, criticism only comes in response to the twaddle they peddle.

    If they would leave me alone, I would be quite content to leave them alone.

    But pronouncements like these go beyond preaching. They are the kind of things that motivate people to political action.

    Does the Vatican like unemployment?

    No, the Vatican is just clueless.

  41. @Franklin Harris You beat me to it.

  42. Hmmm…the only real way to create poverty is by destroying wealth. Is the Vatican at long last condemning socialism, taxation and the Code of Federal Regulations?

    Excessive wealth? When Jesus condemned rich people (and camels trying to get through that needle eye) he was thinking of a couple of horses, a nice house and some sheep. The average car mechanic today enjoys wealth that Herod never dreamed of having.

  43. The Catholic Church has absolutely ZERO CREDIBILITY whatsoever to be determining what is or is not “new sins” until they atone for their own sins first, namely letting Father O’Gropper have free reign on the boy’s choir. They need to start READING the book instead of bashing people in the heads with it… especially the part about removing the PLANK (or in this case the whole damned forest) from their own eyes first before worrying about the splinter in the eyes of their neighbors.

  44. 5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor

    Damn, and I was just about to give away all my wealth and possessions to the Church, take a vow of poverty, and become a monk.

    But that would contribute to widening the gap between rich and poor, so I guess I’ll just forget the whole thing.

  45. Mind you, that the pope is merely the bishop of Rome.

    For you and me, yes. for over a billion people, no. (Yes, despite the elitist sneering on this site, religion matters to most, and most people.) The difference is that the pope’s ex-cathedra statements are considered morally binding to Catholics; those of a cardinal or other teacher are not (unless perhaps you live in his or her diocese, and even then they fall below the dictates of your conscience).

    For example, Thomas J. DiLorenzo, a strong Catholic and leading voice among many libertarians, highlights the many pro-liberty and pro-capitalist statements of the Church. Since most of the socialist drivel was not spoken as dogma, he may ignores that.

  46. The Democrats are going to be hung by their own petard on this one. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE!

  47. 7’s a lucky number, I wish they’d stop hitting it with negative connotations.

    how about “666 things that really annoyed Pope Benedict when he went out for a walk this morning”?

  48. Thank you for reinforcing my atheism!

  49. If I hire people for a business I have started, I am reducing poverty, but if the business grows and I become richer, then I am increasing poverty.

    Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t.

  50. RegularRon | March 10, 2008, 2:24pm | #
    And que the Anti-Catholic rhetoric.

    Personally, I haven’t been back to the church since midnight mass, December 24th 1994 when a priest who obviously wasn’t very familiar with the New Testament pulled a sermon about Homeless Jesus out of his ass. I walked out in mid ceremony in disgust.

    If you feel their politically correct nostrums are worth defending, be my guest, don’t expect me to hang around though.

  51. This is an unusually stupid post. The Vatican highlightes some general principles, and the writer brings up some preposterous examples to point out that they may occasionally lead to certain strange results. I was not enlightened.

  52. “Yes, despite the elitist sneering on this site, religion matters to most, and most people.”

    Ah, yes, the arrogance of proper reasoning.

    Shh… The kids still believe in Santa Claus.

    Here’s a toast to the “most.”

  53. Unsurprisingly, covering up the rape of little kids did not make their list.

  54. As for the “Anti-Catholic rhetoric” accusation, no, in my case it’s “Anti-Idiot rhetoric”.

    If the idiot who made the idiotic statements happens to be a Catholic it’s incidental.

  55. Seems to me that you are always going to be doing one of these, no matter what. For instance, if you DON’T use birth control,(number one) you end up creating poverty (number 7). Of course, if everyone is a sinner, they need plenty of forgiveness, which means plenty of clergy dispensing absolution.

    The whole problem with Catholicism in particular and Christianity in general is that it’s a sin to just be alive – on the other hand it’s also a sin to commit suicide.

  56. These sins are so boring!

    That’s bad. One thing sins should never be is boring.

  57. So, did the Queen Spider tell the good bishop he could add these sins?

  58. That was a reference to South Park.

  59. I dont agree with most what people say here, but that was a stupid thing for a bishop to say.

  60. I’ve just blogged on this myself ( http://layscience.net/?q=node/70 ), dismantling each of the “sins” in turn. Even if I were a Christian, I don’t see how you can follow a set of statements that – when you analyze them – are basically meaningless?

  61. “Excessive Wealth”…
    You talking to me?

  62. When did the The catholic church become communist?

  63. 7. Creating poverty

    When do I get to drive my car? After the last bully whip craftsman dies? Or when his children do?

  64. Christ and his early followers didn’t necessarily advocate state enforced communism, but they did preach communalism. That’s fine with me as long as it’s voluntary. On the other hand, it does seem that Christ saw having a lot of wealth as sinful – “Easier for a camel to move through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” Perhaps though he was speaking of excessive attachment to wealth, not wealth per se. If you’re holding too tight to anything, it makes it harder to transcend your limitations, spiritually speaking; that’s a teaching supported by Eastern spirituality as well. Also, maybe during that time, wealth creation was sneered at because most people who became very wealthy did so through thuggery and/or deceit.

  65. Does anyone else see the hypocrisy of the Vatican criticizing others for “excessive wealth”?

  66. “Does anyone else see the hypocrisy of the Vatican criticizing others for “excessive wealth”?”

    You talkin’ to ME?

  67. My understanding is that the camel – needle’s eye reference is metaphoric. I was told once that the “Needle’s Eye” was a local expression for a particularly narrow gate leading into one of the nearby cities, or neighborhoods thereof. Jesus was therefore saying that a rich man could get to heaven, but it would be a mighty tight squeeze.

    At least that was giving him a chance.

  68. As a Catholic, I have specific problems with #s 5 through 7. I can’t think of a better way to “create poverty” (#7)than by pushing the anti-wealth-generation or state socialist agenda implied by #s 5 and 6.

    Unfortunately it is my fate, as a Catholic, to be periodically embarrassed by the ignorance of economics among the church hierarchy. Maybe John Paul II had an excuse, since he grew up in a communist country. The American Catholic bishops, who spent a lot of the 1980s leaking anti-capitalist rhetoric, sure didn’t.

    If I were Pope, I’d make it a rule that if you had never held a job in the for-profit sector, well, you could be ordained a priest, but you could never be promoted to bishop or higher. I think too many of these guys have never had real jobs.

  69. My understanding is that the camel – needle’s eye reference is metaphoric. I was told once that the “Needle’s Eye” was a local expression for a particularly narrow gate leading into one of the nearby cities, or neighborhoods thereof.

    Ya I heard something similar…the eye of the needle was a small entrance to town left open at night and that it was a pain in the ass to get live stock into.

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