Why spend time looking at vices and virtues? The term “vice” never appears in the Bible, the term “virtue” is added into the NIV text in Colossians 3:14, but is not there in the original language. I should note at this point the emphasis of this project will be on the idea of vice rather than virtue, but as we will see the two are connected. But why look at them at all?
Sun Tzu makes the assertion “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”1 In this case to know your enemy is to know yourself. The war on sin is not something we can win completely, but we are called to put to death the things that belong to our earthly body since are Christ’s people. In Christian culture, we think of sin in vague terms, but while it is fundamentally our rebellion in relationship to God, it is expressed in numerous ways.
The list of seven deadly sins or vices is most famously connected with Thomas Aquinas. Yet, historically lists like this have been dotted throughout church history. It would seem that there are several vices that are shared throughout history by most of humanity
But this leads us to our second question of what is the difference between a vice and a sin, or for that matter virtue and godliness. In her book Glittering Vices, Robyn Konyndyk DeYoung makes the distinction:
Very simply, a virtue (or vice) is acquired through practice – repeated activity that increases our proficiency at the activity and gradually forms our character.2
That is, a virtue or a vice are more to do with the habits we have that lead to the behaviours. The list that we will be looking at is are things that are often both sins and vices, habits we can develop in our thinking. Before you underestimate the way our habits determine our behaviour, think about the last time you were driving or walking somewhere and before you knew it had ended up somewhere else. That somewhere else is a place you regularly go to, say the shops you regularly shop from, rather than the friend’s house you were planning to visit. The reason for this is that your mind has jumped to a kind of autopilot that life demands of us. We spend a lot of time in this autopilot frame of living so we can solve other problems. The question is where is the autopilot taking us or getting us to do?
Some autopilot behaviours will be vices, some will be virtues, but unless we make a conscious effort to think about them, they will continue to take them to where they, not us, want to go. We must stop and examine ourselves. This is what this project is about….
Another reason we need to look at the carefully, is the way our society sees these vices: gay pride or black pride makes pride something to be….well proud of and on an individual level self-esteem gets blended into pride. Gluttony is not seen as out of date at best, but rather is to be seen under the topic of eating disorders. Envy and greed are driving forces of ambition and the driving force to make us want more by marketing departments. Anger is more something to be managed. Lust is just plain celebrated. In one advertising campaign read “If the original sin had been sloth, we would still be in paradise”3.
So over the next few weeks, I will be looking at each of the vices and seeing what they are like, and what we can do to combat them. But before we do: let me ask the question what are you expecting your vice to be?
1 Sun Tzu, The Art of War. Chapter 3.
2 Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices, (Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2009) p15.
3 “You can have it All! Seven Campaigns for Deadly Sin,” Harper’s November 1987, 43-50. Quoted in Konyndyk DeYoung, p12.