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["Repent and believe in the Gospel" is one of the catchphrases of this holy season. As we begin our Lenten journey, I thought I'd post excerpts from the chapter on the seven deadly sins in that remarkable book by Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, written during WWII. The chapter is called "The Other Six Deadly Sins."]
The sixth deadly sin is named by the Church acedia or sloth. IN the world it calls itself tolerance; but in hell it is called despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for. We have known it far too well for many years. The only thing perhaps that we have not known about it is that it is a mortal sin.
The war has jerked us pretty sharply into consciousness about this slugabed sin of sloth, and perhaps we need not say too much about it. But two warnings are rather necessary.
First, it is one of the favorite tricks of this sin to dissemble itself under a cover of a whiffling activity of body. We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from sloth. And besides, violent activity seems to offer an escape for the horrors of sloth. So the other sins hasten to provide a cloak for sloth. Gluttony offers a whirl of dancing, dining, sport, and dashing very fast from place to place to gape at beauty spots, which, when we get to them, we defile with vulgarity and waste. Covetousness rakes us out of bed at an early hour in order that we may put pep and hustle into our business. Envy sets us to gossip and scandal, to writing cantankerous letters to the papers, and to the unearthing of secrets and scavenging of dustbins. Wrath provides (very ingeniously) the argument that the only fitting activity in a world so full of evil-doers and demons is to curse loudly and incessantly: "Whatever brute and blackguard made the world"; while lust provides that round of dreary promiscuity that passes for bodily vigor. But these are all disguises for the empty heart and the empty brain and the empty soul of acedia.
Let us take particular notice of the empty brain. Here sloth is in a conspiracy with envy to prevent people from thinking. Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not our sin, but our misfortune; while envy, at the same time, persuades us that intelligence is despicable -- a dusty, high-brow, and commercially useless thing.
And secondly, the war has jerked us out of sloth; but wars if they go on very long, induce sloth in the shape of war-weariness and despair of any purpose. We saw its effects in the last peace, when it brought all the sins in its train. There are times when one is tempted to say that the great, sprawling, lethargic sin of sloth is the oldest and greatest of sins and the parent of all the sins.
But the head and origin of all sin is the basic sin of superbia or pride. [On which more tomorrow.]