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The Importance of Remembering That There are Seven Deadly Sins

The traditional Christian view of sexuality is more essential to the faith as a whole than many modern believers want to acknowledge. Like most Christian dogmas, from the identity of Christ to the doctrine of the Trinity, it doesn’t just rest on a literal reading of a few passages in Scripture, which can easily be revised or reinterpreted. Rather, it’s the fruit of centuries’ worth of meditation and argument on the whole of the biblical narrative, from the creation of Adam and Eve to Jesus’ prohibition on divorce. It seems easy enough to snip a single thread out of this pattern, but often the whole thing unravels once you do.

Yet many conservative Christians often make a similar mistake; they emphasize the most hot-button (and easily politicized) moral issues while losing sight of the tapestry as a whole. There are seven deadly sins, not just one, and Christianity’s understanding of marriage and chastity is intimately bound to its views on gluttony and avarice and pride. (Recall that in the Inferno, Dante consigns gluttons, misers, and spendthrifts to lower circles of hell than adulterers and fornicators.) Christians often complain, with some justice, that journalists want to quote religious leaders only when they’re talking about sex. But sexual issues are one of the few places where many ministers and bishops are comfortable issuing specific condemnations, as opposed to general love-thy-neighbor appeals. It’s rare to hear a rip-roaring Sunday sermon about the temptations of the five-course meal and the all-you-can-eat buffet, or hear a high-profile pastor who addresses the sin of greed in the frank manner of, say, Saint Basil the Great in the fourth century A.D.:

The bread that you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxed, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the bare-foot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need. You wrong as many people as you could help.

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But a Christianity that cannot use the language of Basil—and of Jesus—to attack the cult of Mammon will inevitably be less persuasive when the time comes to attack the cult of Dionysus.

In much the same way, the Christian case for fidelity and chastity will inevitably seem partial and hypocritical if it trains most of its attention on the minority of cases—on homosexual wedlock and the slippery slope to polygamy and beyond. It is the heterosexual divorce rate, the heterosexual retreat from marriage, and the heterosexual out-of-wedlock birthrate that should command the most attention from Christian moralists. The Christian perspective on gay sex only makes sense in light of the Christian perspective on straight sex, and in a culture that has made heterosexual desire the measure of all things, asking gays to conform their lives to a hard teaching will inevitably seem like a form of bigotry.

—from Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat, Conclusion: The Recovery of Christianity

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