The dirty little secret of religious people – a whole list of sins they commit without even realizing it
Humility, which takes a frank account of one’s actual pluses and minuses. Or you can panic at the prospect you might, just might, be proud—and learn to rip yourself to little, despairing shreds through Scrupulosity. (That was the sin that goaded Martin Luther to leave the priesthood.)
The opposite of Envy, the devil’s own sin which hates the good for being good, is not the large-souled virtue of Magnanimity, but the timid, vacuous sin called Pusillanimity—the kind of thing that drives a servant to bury his master’s treasure in the yard. So the opposite of starkly ugly modern religious art is accidentally ugly, cloying devotional art. Good religious art that can find beauty in our fallen state transcends them both, because its creators have stretched their souls and refined their techniques.
Much of the trouble and most of the self-torturing craziness we find in religious circles comes less from people sunk in deadly sins – though we’ve got our share of those – than from well-meaning people who have carelessly overreacted to a sin by embracing the opposite vice, just to be on the safe side. (For a sobering example, recall how the Church Father Origen dealt with lust by “cutting off” the sin at its root.) Perhaps the reason we see so much mediocrity and neurotic backbiting in faithful Christian circles is that we’ve lost sight of St. Thomas, and his awareness that virtue is complex, fragile, and typically active. We must work to form ourselves rightly, pray for good guidance, and use the minds God gave us to figure out – in the light of reason – what God really wants of us. It might not be exactly what you expect. He’s full of surprises.
John Zmirak is author ofThe Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins, and blogs at The Bad Catholic’s Bingo Hall.