The late Henry Fairlie, a well-known British journalist writing from Washington in the 1970s, was a bit of a lady's man and hardly a prude, but he eloquently rebuked the sin of pride in his book, "Seven Deadly Sins Today," observing how the sins puff up the political establishment with vanity, egotism, self-glorification and self-righteousness. He invoked Dorothy Sayers' warning "the devilish strategy of Pride is that it attacks us, not in our weakest points, but in our strongest. It is preeminently the sin of the noble mind." Nothing has changed in the three decades since.
Prior to Pope Benedict's mission to Washington, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti -- overseer of the Vatican office for matters of sin, punishment and penance -- announced an additional list of seven deadly sins. These include: polluting the environment, trafficking in drugs, manipulating human genes, contributing to the poverty of others and accumulating excessive wealth. In this catalog of vices, global warming is the real fire and brimstone. Or, as a headline in the London Telegraph put it: "Recycle or Go to Hell."
The original top seven said it better. The new list moves the emphasis on personal behavior to an emphasis on the community's social goals. "Forgive me father, for I scored in the stock market," doesn't quite carry the weight of a confession of avarice, which shows a hardness of heart to the dismal lives of the poor. St. Paul called avarice the root of all evils because it enables a rich man to satisfy his desire to sin.
Pope Gregory the Great, who consolidated the original seven deadlies in the sixth century, decreed that his list would serve "as a classification of the normal perils of the soul in the ordinary conditions of life." The conditions of life have changed radically since then, but the normal perils of the soul have not. The devil is still in the details.