Seven sensationalist sins

SevenDeadlySinsTo the 1,342 readers (give or take a few) who sent us variations on the “Seven Deadly Sins” stories being published everywhere — we heard you.

It looks like the entire brouhaha started with a remarkably bad story in the Times of London. Headline: Seven new deadly sins: are you guilty? Richard Owen, reporting from Rome, wrote:

Drug pushers, the obscenely rich, environmental polluters and “manipulative” genetic scientists beware — you may be in danger of losing your mortal soul unless you repent.

After 1,500 years the Vatican has brought the seven deadly sins up to date by adding seven new ones for the age of globalisation.

Yes, that is right drug pushers. You used to be considered totally fine but now the Catholic Church has deemed your behavior suddenly unacceptable. And how is condemnation of “obscene wealth” different, exactly, from the old deadly sin of avarice? Who writes this stuff?

It seems that L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, ran an article yesterday about modern social sins: embryonic-destroying stem cell research, environmental pollution, drug abuse, poverty, excessive wealth, etc. One of the British papers invented the Seven Deadly Sins angle and the rest of history.

The Times, by the way, ends its article with a list of punishments for the seven traditional deadly sins, including dismemberment for the angry and snake pits for the slothful. I could be wrong, but it sounds like the reporter confused Vatican punishments with those listed in Dante’s Inferno. The article includes a list of seven virtues which I don’t think are accurate but do share an uncanny resemblance to a Wikipedia entry.

The problem is that so many of the stories are so bad, that I’m having a really hard time figuring out what’s right. It’s really a shame that “shoddy, sensationalist news reporting” didn’t make the list of seven deadly sins.

Here’s a doozy from The Telegraph (U.K.):

Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell, the Vatican said after drawing up a list of seven deadly sins for our times.

The Telegraph is paying Malcolm Moore money to report the rubbish from Rome. I think any random GetReligion reader could do better than this.

The BBC coverage is also horrible:

Those newly risking eternal punishment include drug pushers, the obscenely wealthy, and scientists who manipulate human genes. So “thou shalt not carry out morally dubious scientific experiments” or “thou shalt not pollute the earth” might one day be added to the Ten Commandments.

What does that even mean?
The only decent article I read on the matter came from Reuters’ Philip Pullella:

Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of “new” sins such as causing environmental blight.

The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican’s number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.

Asked what he believed were today’s “new sins,” he told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.

“(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control,” he said.

The Vatican opposes stem cell research that involves destruction of embryos and has warned against the prospect of human cloning.

Pulella’s piece is a breath of fresh air after much of the other coverage.

Top image via Jessica Hagy of Indexed.

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  • FW Ken

    As one of the 1342 (give or take) who sent this in, let me thank you for putting it together in a way that gives me a good laugh. A little silliness makes the day go by well, I think. I know you focus on print journalism, but ABC News screwed up too. :-)

    Special kudos to Pulella, who gets the fact that we denounce a specific kind of stem cell research, not all stem cell research.

  • Jerry

    I liked the top image. It illustrates how endless are the combinations of the “7 deadly sins” give or take a few depending on the reporting of the Vatican story. I would have some different examples than the one’s listed, but it’s a good first start. Now we need to combine 3,4 and even all of them at the same time to come up with a comprehensive list. Is littering CDF, for example?

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    I want to ditto your point that most of the coverage was terrible. Showed a misunderstanding of the original comments, of the Catholic concept of sin, of the history of the Seven Cardinal Sins, etc. It also made for a perfect bad TV story: Credibility from mentioning the Vatican, easily accessed B-roll of litter, a list that can be quickly read, followed by a toss-off to the weather-guy with a joke about his personal habits. All of the trappings of meaning without any actual, like, meaning…

  • Martha

    It’s not “seven new sins”, it’s “same old sins, new faces”. But let’s face it, “Church says sin still bad” is not the kind of headline that is going to set the Thames on fire (or sell loads of advertising space).

    Besides, in Dante’s “Inferno”, the slothful were not tormented in snake pits. So they can’t even get the mistakes right! :-)

  • C. Wingate

    I liked the helpful side bullet on the CNN story: “Violators could burn in hell”.

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  • Travis Mamone

    Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell, the Vatican said after drawing up a list of seven deadly sins for our times.

    Oops, I’m in trouble! But since I recycle paper, will that land me in Purgatory?

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  • Stephen A.

    So “thou shalt not carry out morally dubious scientific experiments” or “thou shalt not pollute the earth” might one day be added to the Ten Commandments.

    The Catholic Church could probably get away with adding a couple of new sins to the Seven Deadly Sins, but adding to the Ten Commandments might be a little dicey, unless they’re prepared to take the heat for editing the Book of Exodus.

    What was that reporter’s mind focused on when this line was written?

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  • Maureen

    Well, actually the point of the original article was “It’s Lent! Go to Confession, and don’t pretend your modern sins aren’t sins!” Which is pretty much the story you’d expect. I mean, it’s the Vatican newspaper and it’s Lent.

    I don’t know whether I blame bad reading comprehension of non-Italian reporters, or the fact these reporters have apparently never been lectured about sin at church. :)

  • Maureen

    Btw, what with the Seven Virtues being taken from Prudentius and the Dante details being wrong, I’m wondering if there’s some sort of “Christian Doctrine Sarcasm Page” out there. The good ol’ Tolkien Sarcasm Page has not only provided the lazy with bad grades, but did claim one British tabloid reporter’s scalp. (The infamous Queen Beruthiel interview with Cate Blanchett, which was made up from whole cloth and the Sarcasm Page.)

  • ignoble

    so alot of people are going to hell for taking the last doughnut?!? kinda makes it hard to take this seriously. wouldnt not taking the last doughnut be wasteful? i also suppose now that all the olympic announcers are right…the silver medal is for losers.

  • Julia

    My theory: this is almost totally coming out of the UK. Perhaps this is a way to take some of the heat off the Church of England’s troubles these days. Just trotting out stories about that ol debbil Pope to make themselves feel better. Example: See, the Pope’s dumber than the Archbishop of Canterbury who wantd to incorporate Sharia law in England.

    The comboxes at the Times of London are full of truly snarky comments about the Catholic Church every time they come up with one of these gems. Another good one is the “story” about the Pope planning to rehabilitate Luther based on absolutely nothing except a rumor that Benedict’s annual private seminar with his PhD students this year might discuss Luther. duh They’re theologians and the Pope is German and has had some really good things to say about Lutehr over his long life. Another time they discussed evolution. Who knows what they’ll discuss next. It’s like a marathon discussion in the dorm at night. No pronouncements come out of these private discussion sessions.

    There is a total misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of infallibility and who speaks officially for the Pope in order to make Catholics and our Pope look stupid. I’m beginning to think it’s malicious – even though these things come from legitimate UK newspapers and the BBC.

  • Mugsy

    A brief look at that list of “New” seven sins, and it doesn’t take a theologian to figure out what Party is on the wrong side of God.

  • Dave

    Mugsy, I clicked on the link you provided and your site came up with everything but the text.

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  • shari b.

    ummm, doesn’t it say somewhere in the bible that you shall not add to or take away from the Word of God??? I go to a bible studying/reading church and i am pretty sure that my pastor has said this many many times- although this article is funny. my sister is in a catholic versus christian clash with her husbands family so i am going to share this one with her

  • Alice C. Linsley

    Terrific! Especially the first chart.