[Humanist] 22.576 culpae nostrae! Fr Busa in the news
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Feb 28 08:00:57 GMT 2009
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 576.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 2009 17:35:24 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: Fr Busa in the news
From The Sunday Times
February 22, 2009
Lust and pride: the vices dividing the sexes
Men and women sin in very different ways, according to Monsignor
Wojciech Giertych, personal theologian to Pope Benedict XVI and the
papal household. There is “no sexual equality when it comes to sin”,
Giertych wrote last week in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
His views were formed by his own experience of the confessional and were
supported by an analysis of confessional data carried out by 95-year-old
Roberto Busa, an impressively tech-savvy Jesuit priest who has also
carried out a computerised study of the works of St Thomas Aquinas.
The seven deadly sins are: lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy
and pride (as opposed to chastity, temperance, charity, diligence,
patience, kindness and humility). Last year, however, the Vatican
suggested these might be supplemented with some new sins particularly
relevant to the modern age – namely genetic modification, human
experimentation, polluting the environment, social injustice, causing
poverty, financial gluttony and the taking or selling of drugs (I’m not
really seeing how smoking a doobie offends the Lord in a way comparable
to deliberately causing poverty, but anyway . . . ).
According to Busa and Giertych’s Vatican-endorsed findings, if you’re a
man, then your number one sin is lust, followed by gluttony – and then
sloth, since by that point you’re probably too sated, in both senses, to
If you’re a woman, the prime sin is pride, followed by envy and then
anger, which, I must say, doesn’t paint a very attractive picture. No
wonder men sit around eating a lot and watching porn.
Dorothy L Sayers once cleverly observed that the sins ought to be
subdivided into the disreputable-but-warm-hearted (lust, anger,
gluttony) and the respectable-but-cold-hearted (envy, sloth, avarice,
pride) – cold-hearted because they are sins of the spirit rather than
the flesh and respectable because they can masquerade as virtues.
I expect the list ranking our sins would have looked very different 30
or 40 years ago. Would lust have topped the men’s list when advertising
still tended to feature fully-clothed “housewives” trying to put
together simple and nutritious meals and access to porn involved an
embarrassing, furtive trip to the newsagent? In 2009 it’s hardly
surprising that lust should occupy the number one slot in the male mind:
sex seems to saturate every aspect of their lives.
If a man had been asked 40 years ago in the confessional to list every
single time the old sap had risen during the course of a day, he might
have mentioned two or three instances. Today, to catalogue every twinge
properly, he’d probably be in there for hours. Still, at least men do
tend to confess to lust, which means they presumably feel bad about
getting the horn at random things, such as advertisements for chocolate.
I am interested in the fact that avarice comes second to bottom in the
list of sins that women confess to and bottom in the list of men’s. Like
lust, avarice is practically a universal: everyone walks around wanting
stuff they don’t have and not properly appreciating what they do have.
Unlike lust, this isn’t generally felt to be a bad or particularly
reprehensible thing, unless it applies to bankers and bonuses.
The cracked.com website last week published a widely circulated article
entitled “Five things you think will make you happy (but won’t)”, the
five things being, in reverse order: fame (the website links teenagers’
hunger for fame to being starved of attention by absent or “emotionally
distant” parents); wealth (“Nigerians are happier with their lives than
the people of any other country. The average Nigerian makes $300 a
year”); beauty (too much “counterfeit flattery” just because you’re hot,
same self-esteem problems as the plain); genius (which makes you lonely
and possibly mentally ill); and power (which turns you “into an asshole”
and possibly a sociopath).
The thoughts of this funny and irreverent website on the subject of
human delusion echo the Vatican’s confessional findings almost to the
letter, which you must admit is rather interesting. As Giertych said:
“Diverse cultural contexts generate diverse habits – but human nature
remains the same.”
In a gripping essay published a couple of weeks ago (available online),
Mary Eberstadt, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, ponders on
the significance of the fact that, for the first time in history,
westerners have access to practically all the food and sex they want.
She describes the “chasm in attitude” that separates us from our
ancestors when it comes to these two fundamentals, which “have
historically been subject in all civilisations to rules both formal and
informal” in order to avoid things such as sexual aggression, disease,
“what used to be called home-wrecking” and so on.
Those rules are gone. You don’t have to fear getting pregnant; you don’t
have to expose yourself to disease; there is little stigma attached to
multiple partners; and mechanised farming, pesticides and genetically
modified foods have ensured that almost everyone in the West can eat
until they’re stuffed. To paraphrase and simplify wildly: Eberstadt
concludes that food is the new sex – the place where taboos, obsessions,
rules, quirks and fetishes now go to roost.
Anyone who has eyes in their head, or who’s had awkward dinner guests
with wheat “issues”, can see that this is true. And the male side of the
Vatican’s sin list rather suggests that men are, as per Eberstadt,
completely beached by their own appetites.
In fact, the list provides a useful insight into the fundamental
differences between the sexes today: men eat and shag and then worry
about it; women preen and resent, with a little envy and crossness
chucked in, and don’t especially like themselves for it either. The
“vice divide” identified by the Vatican echoes the societal changes of
the past few decades in an unexpectedly modern way – and what initially
seems like an entertaining little titbit provides a perfect snapshot of
male and female unease.
+ A preliminary clinical trial at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge
suggests it may be possible to modify an allergy by desensitising the
sufferer. Researchers gave a group of children with severe peanut
allergies a small daily amount of peanut flour over a six-month period.
By the end of the trial, the children could eat up to 12 nuts a day
without suffering anaphylaxis.
This is great, obviously, but I wish somebody could explain where peanut
allergy has come from and why. In my childhood it was unheard of; today
you have to check that a cake doesn’t contain even a whisper of nut
before allowing your child to bring it to school.
I am slightly obsessive in my belief that allergies must surely be
related to people’s increasingly demented diets. I believe that
everybody should eat everything, particularly in pregnancy (when
mothers-to-be should also drink red wine or stout, in my view).
My theory – that eating a bit of everything makes you healthy and
resilient and living off brown rice and spinach makes you feeble – may
sound rather unsympathetic and reductive. Ditto my belief that germs are
good and there’s nothing wrong with eating something that’s just landed
on the floor (provided you don’t live in a sty). I may be wrong. But, in
the absence of a rational explanation about where all these mysterious
and new childhood allergies originate, I’m sticking to my guns.
Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.
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