Spinning the Moral Compass

Digby’s recent essay on the inadequacy of conservative assessments of public morality got me thinking. But first, here’s her ultimate assertion:

So, here we find ourselves more than 40 years after the conservatives began decrying the moral depravity of the left and 15 years after Patrick Moynihan told us that our liberal culture was defining deviancy down and we find that they were right all along. They just got one little detail wrong. It wasn’t the liberal left who were morally depraved. It was them.

While the culture at large was adjusting to the idea that families don’t all look the same and that private sexual morality was not the business of the state, the decadent economic elite and right wing ideologues had systematically defined deviancy down to the point where Moynihan’s deviant “altruism” can be illustrated as giving bonuses to workers who denied cancer patients their medicine; his deviant “opportunism” is seen as giving hundreds of millions of dollars to failed business leaders who lost their companies billions; and his deviant “normalizing” can be observed as society tossing aside its taboo against government-sanctioned torture.

If those are the “old” standards the culture warriors of the right have been trying to defend, they’re killing us. Literally.

What got me wondering was where we might see ourselves if we defined a moral compass and let the needle spin, so to speak. And I thought it might be handy to use, as points, the seven deadly sins. Now, I belong to a sola scriptura denominational tradition, but because they are so familiar, the big seven may serve well as a heuristic device.

Here they are:

Lust (Latin, luxuria)– the excessive desire for sexual release, sinful because of its making the other person a “means to an end” for the fulfillment of the subject’s desires.
COMPASS POINT: Top of the charts in American morality. Thunder. Lightning. Our nation’s moral fiber holds or unravels around lust — well, not exactly. As scandals of the past several years have shown, it’s not so much what you want to do, or even with whom, it’s whether you want and/or do publicly. Only the feminists seem to get the traditional point of why lust is sinful.

Gluttony (Latin, gula)– the excessive desire for food, sinful because of its resulting in withholding food from the needy.
COMPASS POINT: One way or another, we’re a nation obsessed with food. And we’re accustomed to getting what we want, when we want, and from where we want. Strawberries in January, apples in June, shellfish regardless of whether the month has an “r” in it; no problem. We get people to grow food cheap, people to pick it cheaper, and factory farms to drive family farms out of existence.

Greed (Latin, avaritia)– the excessive desire for wealth, sinful because of its resulting in withholding everything else from the needy.
COMPASS POINT: Gordon Gecko — “greed is good.” ’nuff said.

Sloth (Latin, acedia)– originally what we now would call clinical depression, now limited to laziness, sinful because of its dampening enthusiasm for Creation and its gifts.
COMPASS POINT: If you are poor, you’re offending everything that made America great. If you’re not poor, you get meds.
Wrath (Latin, ira)– inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger, sinful because it perverts justice and leads to all sorts of killing people and breaking things.
COMPASS POINT: It all depends on the target. Wrath toward the weak is righteous anger; wrath toward the powerful is hating America.
Envy (Latin, invidia)– excessive disdain for others’ good, sinful because of its desire to deny good to others.
COMPASS POINT: Go shopping. Buy! Get buff! Show them! It’s the American way.
Pride (Latin, superbia)– a desire to be more important or attractive than others, considered the root of all sins because of its idolotry of the self.
COMPASS POINT: But we are the greatest. country. ever.

Methinks America has a ways to go, and doesn’t help itself by insisting upon taking the speck out of the eyes of its vulnerable people.

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