The Seven Sins

by Glen

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Just a few weeks before he was tragically assassinated, Mahatma Gandhi spoke of current troublesome trends that he eventually titled The Seven Sins:

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principles

Over 60 years later, these seven blunders have been so institutionalized that they have been structured into modern society in ways that are endemic.

Given the increased emphasis on the acquisition of wealth in these last two decades, the reality of people making money off of money as opposed to working with hands and minds has revolutionized the global economy and ostracized communities and entire countries in the process.

The rise of the middle class following the Second World War put money in the average person’s pocket in measures unheard of in all of human history.  We became a consumer culture, acquiring articles and pursuits of pleasure that gave little thought to the deplorable labour conditions, environmental degradation, and the unemployment crisis that resulted from our acquisitions.

The rapid rise of technology has permitted our “Google generation” to learn almost any fact by the click of a button.  But we have acquired knowledge devoid of consequences – facts without faith, and data without direction.  It is knowledge without character.

Commerce without morality takes place at almost every level in a consumer culture, with little thought being given to the consequences on a generation in which money has become an end in itself.

The vast explosion of scientific research and data has taken us from the depths of space to the mysteries of the womb.  But it has become a manic kind of discovery that far outpaces the human ability to comprehend its implications, let alone handle it.

Worship once used to entail acts of human betterment and personal character growth, but today religious people pick and choose what they like from their faith and toss out the rest.  The result has been a faith without force and almost fully incapable of preparing its adherents to fend off the incursions of materialism.

“Politics without principles” – has this condemnation not infiltrated every level of political dealings in our modern world.  It’s so bad that the modern citizen has trouble putting the word politics and principles in the same sentence.

It remains a startling reality that the vast majority of modern citizens have never heard of Gandhi’s seven sins.  I listed them in one my blogs a couple of years ago and was inundated with requests for their origin.  They are as compelling as they are brief, but it shocked many of the readers to learn that they were compiled in 1947. 

In reality, Gandhi was seeking a balance, not a severe tipping of the scales in one direction or the other.  Some have accused him of making his seven sins extreme, leaving him open to Western criticisms of disliking capitalism or pleasure.  Of all the words in the seven sins, one is used more than any other – without.  At no point does he exclude wealth, pleasure, knowledge or science.  He merely points out that the lack of balancing factors on such powerful impulses will inevitably lead to subtle violence that can eventually become more public.  If we were to put this point in its context we would say that Gandhi called for wealth and work, science and humanity, pleasure and conscience, knowledge and character, worship and sacrifice, politics and principles.

Life is a mystery, full of unknowns.  But there are consequences to placing all our efforts behind one dimension.  Pretending to solve human problems while forgetting humanity can only lead to unbalance, a sense of futility, even violence and inequity.  We wouldn’t have to think very hard to come up with other examples of how society requires this sense of proportion and balance – individuality and community, history and progress, private interests and public interests, justice and mercy, religion and reason, or law and freedom.

We live in an era where we adore and worship rock stars and forget God.  We secretly admire millionaires and billionaires but deride civil servants.  We somehow desire great wealth but wish to be noble and ethical at the same time.  We dote on our children but increasingly neglect the elderly.  We generously give to food banks but permit the growth of child poverty and hunger.  We demand government to be accountable and then refuse to vote.  We extol human rights but deny them to our aboriginal communities.  We glorify private wealth but assist in the decline of our public treasures.

This is the current state of the human race: possessing solutions to all these things affordable and within our grasp, but lacking the will to secure their achievement.  Gandhi himself observed that, “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and soul of its people.” But what if our collective soul is distracted or misdirected that we secure our own decline?  This is our present predicament as a species; other species have gone extinct for misinterpreting such signals of their own danger.

The front line where all these complexities intersect is housed in our communities.  There more than anyplace else, citizens can begin the process of rediscovering balance in our collective life.  It will take sacrifice and diligence, and no small amount of humility.  But the great question is still out there: are we ready for that responsibility?