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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What's a poor sinner to do, nowadays?

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MY wife thinks I am an angry man. She is wrong about that, as she is about many things about me -- I am actually taller than she, and, to be honest, most people think I am. You would think after more than 30 years of marriage she would know me a little bit better. In truth, I am not angry or short; I am just shortish and easily annoyed, as both of my long-suffering daughters can attest.

Anger is sometimes thought of as one of the seven deadly sins, but, in fact, it is not. Anger is, rather, a virtue. You may have heard of righteous anger. That is what you feel when something happens that is so egregiously wrong that it compels you to react, even if that reaction is nothing more than a silent scream or something so powerful that it makes you want to go to war. Rude store clerks and late delivery of your newspaper are enough to prompt the lesser reaction; events such as 9/11 and Iran's manufacture of a nuclear bomb to use against Israel are an example of events that evoke the more serious response.

It is not anger that is a deadly sin, but wrath, its close cousin and a sin of which even God Himself is guilty, if we can believe the Bible. There are seven Deadly Sins and besides wrath they include pride, envy, lust (the perennial favourite), gluttony (a close second), sloth and avarice (a more nicely phrased description of materialism, which is probably the most popular of all the seven Deadly Sins in the world right now, with the possible exception of lust, given the unbridled and continuing success of the sexual revolution.)

The whole point of having seven Deadly Sins -- the number was only settled on in the middle of the 13th century -- is that you need hell to pay, i.e. a place to which God can confine deadly sinners for all eternity.

Hardly anyone, however, believes in Hell anymore, which perhaps explains why our concept of sin has become so diluted. It is getting really hard to be really bad, which kind of takes some of the romance off the whole idea of the soulful sinner.

Although God may see things differently, it is more difficult than it was in the 13th century to sin in human eyes. That perhaps helps explain a headline in a Free Press story this week that read Seven healthy sins. These seven "sins" included such things as anger (swearing when you stub your toe); sloth (sleeping in -- gasp!); eating red meat, which one can only assume is equivalent to gluttony and must mean that there is vegan heaven somewhere, but anyone who has eaten a McDonald's hamburger knows it is about as far from gluttony as anyone with a real appetite can get; having sex, which is good for you, as almost every normal person has known for all eternity; eating chocolate (who calls that gluttony?); and smoking marijuana, which is a brand-new sin invented by the Harper Conservatives, as far as I can figure.

You are not likely to be sent to hell for any of these so-called healthy sins. They aren't deadly. Chocolate? The real Deadly Sins are far more serious things that require you to be seriously bad, which is why hell is a serious place, whether you believe in it or not. Let's hope we don't see each other there.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011 J2

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