Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Batavick: Seven deadly social sins

You can’t watch the evening news without thinking that the world has jumped the tracks and is careening toward oblivion. Deeds, statements and behavior that would have spelled doom for any politician in the past have now become normalized.

It appears that many voters have lost their moral compass, or at least set it aside for the sake of political expediency. They have become deaf to conscience — that little voice inside that writer C.S. Lewis called “the sovereign of the universe.” He believed that conscience is the pressure we feel upon our will to do what is right. Conscience “is not to be argued with, but obeyed, and even to question it is to incur guilt.”


I recently ran across a list that is sometimes called the Seven Deadly Social Evils. Its origin was a sermon given at Westminster Abbey in England in 1925, and it survives today because six months later Mohandas Gandhi published it in his weekly newspaper Young India. Just before his assassination in 1948, Gandhi gave the same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi, to preserve.

The seven social evils are actually sins: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; and politics without principle. Gandhi's fascination with the list can be traced to his search for the roots of violence. He called these sins “acts of passive violence” because they can destroy persons as well as countries and will ultimately lead to war.


It is not hard to see how many of these sins are interrelated. If you are guilty of one, chances are you also committed a few others. “Wealth without work” is easily a doorway to “pleasure without conscience,” and we are not just talking about the 1 percent with their inherited riches. Those who choose not to work and rely on cashing undeserved disability and welfare checks share in this sin.

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If we look back at the financial collapse of 2008, we see that the people on Wall Street were key to its causes. Many work but don’t really “make” anything. They just use complicated financial instruments like credit default swaps to amass enormous wealth at the expense of others. This act exhibits “knowledge without character” as well as “commerce without morality.” Certainly gun manufacturers fit into this category, too, especially those who flood the market with cheap pistols and AR-15s, and bump stocks that enable their weapons to kill more efficiently.

We don’t have to look far to find “politics without principle.” According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, in 2016 the NRA spent almost $10 million on ads for President Donald Trump and an additional $12 million to attack Hillary Clinton and other candidates who favor even the smallest changes in gun laws. This blood money has just reaped another horrible harvest of children in Parkland, Florida.

Then there’s Trump’s campaign promise “to save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts.” His recently announced budget cuts Medicare by $266 billion, Medicaid by $1.1 trillion and Social Security by $72 billion. The GOP Congress wants to go even further. How else are they going to make up for the revenue shortfall created by the recent tax cut that lined their pockets? And as for Mexico paying for the wall, would you like to use cash or credit for your share of the bill?

Another big part of “politics without principle” is the warping of the truth. With the Justice Department’s recent indictments of 13 Russian nationals for 2016 presidential campaign interference, we now know this is hardly a “hoax” or “fake news.” Gandhi believed that unprincipled politics creates chaos, and that’s what we see on a daily basis in a White House where more shoes are dropping than at Zappos.

The sin of “science without humanity” covers many evils. Corporations rush to integrate robotics into their manufacturing processes without regard for the employees being replaced. Drones have become acceptable weapons of war and Washington chalks up the occasional deaths of innocents as collateral damage.

Arun Gandhi added an eighth sin to his grandfather’s list: "rights without responsibilities." The 2016 election witnessed too many people who enjoy the right to vote but neglected their responsibility to do so. Also, many of this nation’s corporations waited out the latest tax cuts before agreeing to bring home more than $2.6 trillion in corporate profits sitting in foreign bank accounts. When this sum is taxed at the new discounted rate, are these companies responsibly paying their fair share of what it takes to run and defend our country?

When he first published the list, Gandhi noted that it doesn’t suffice “to know these things merely through the intellect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them." Eighty-three years later, he would be saddened to learn that there are still too many who have hardened their hearts to make much of a difference in this troubled world.