Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins:
A Potpourri of Thoughts
Laura Brown, Jonathan Castele, Taylor Crawford,
Daniel Ensign, Mary Flowe, Abby Gabor,
Greg Hess, Shaneice Johnson, Anne Lehan,
Tim McGarvey, Dustin McGowan, Candice Misch,
Stephanie Rentas, and Caleb Wood
Edited by Cliff Williams
This material is a product of discussions in a course taught at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois, during the Spring 2012 semester. The name of the course was Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins; I was the teacher. Each class period two students wrote down ideas on the virtue or sin that was being discussed that day. In addition, I mined the papers and tests the students wrote for insightful thoughts. The particular virtues that were treated in the course are the ones that appeared in the textbooks for the course, which were:
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Sins and Their Remedies (Brazos Press, 2009)
Robert C. Roberts, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Eerdmans, 2007)
Solomon Schimmel, The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology (Oxford University Press, 1997)
Clifford Williams, ed., Personal Virtues: Introductory Essays (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005)
What follows is inspired by these books, but in no case is there a direct quote from the books. — Cliff Williams
• SINS •
PRIDE AND VAINGLORY
• VIRTUES •
The marks of humility
The essence of humility according to some: knowing our deficiencies and limits
Narrow humility: focusing on our personal limitations
Cosmic humility: focusing on our human finitude compared to the universe or God
Other marks of humility:
appreciating the value of something larger than ourselves
having a correct self-perception
The opposites of humility:
lacking awareness of limits
Marks of cosmic pride:
thinking oneself God
defying God’s authority
lording it over others
“Pride cuts a person off from fellowship with others” (Robert Roberts, Spiritual Emotions, p. 85). How?
Pride causes a person to think of themselves as self-sufficient, so that they do not need others or rely on them.
Pride produces aloofness and overconfidence, causing a person to retreat into “splendid isolation.” © Cliff Williams
People do not like to be near a proud person.
Pride makes a person ungrateful for help received. A proud person feels demeaned when aided.
A proud person responds negatively to friendliness.
A proud person tends to view others as tools.
A proud person thinks of their friendship with others as a privilege to them.
A proud person thinks, “My presence is a presence” and “My presence is a present.”
Not the same as arrogance
A healthy confidence in oneself
A disposition to recognize virtue in oneself and others
Good pride can be the glue that makes us hold on to our dignity and integrity.
Good pride can foster in us a desire to become better each day.
It tells us to dream big.
It is reassuring.
Thinking oneself as not having worth
How does a proud person construe others?
As lesser than oneself
How does a person with humility construe others?
As equal to oneself
As having worth independently of their usefulness to one
The Christian underpinning of humility
“I am grateful to be alive, to have friends, to be loved by God.”
All are made in God’s image and all are sinners, including myself.
From an eternal perspective, no one is any more or less valuable.
It is best not to think of one’s own humility.
Focusing on humility may prevent one from having confidence in their abilities.
There are two ways of approaching our limitations:
praising what we can do.
grieving over what we cannot do.
In the Middle Ages humility was used by the nobility to oppress peasants.
Many people who try to deal with their sinful pride end up killing their sense of self-worth.
According to Nietzsche, humility is used to keep “the herd” in check.
Virtues can be misused when they are politicized.
We pick apart others for how they are not humble while we rationalize our way to the top of the humble pyramid.
Humility has less to do with a negative self-assessment as it does with an accurate one.
One can be aware of their mistakes in a positive light instead of a negative one by saying, “This is distressing, but I will improve and become better because of it.”
Some feminists regard humility as an enslavement virtue.
Determining whether a person has genuine humility can be quite difficult.
A person with humility is unselfish and willing to serve others.
It is completely good for a person to think well of themselves, because every person is a creation of God. Having a low opinion of oneself is insulting to God.
One should cultivate a sensitivity to excellence in themselves and others, because recognizing excellence is good and proper for human flourishing. But one should be careful not to privilege one’s own excellence over that of others.
When someone asks for forgiveness, they are acting out of humility.
Ways of fostering humility
Giving someone mercy
Not being focussed on ourselves
Putting the needs of others before one’s own needs
Being generous psychologically
Spending time with people who are better than us
Doing something we are bad at
Appreciating the talents of others
Accepting the generosity of others
Can one have self-confidence and be humble?
What is the connection between humility and being meek?
Is it possible for a humble person to be ambitious?
Is humility the same as modesty of a certain sort?
Can a person with humility have self-respect?
What is healthy about humility?
Is optimism compatible with humility?
Can one have humility without having a negative self-image?
What distinguishes contrition from . . .
fear of punishment:
There is no sorrow for sin in fear of punishment. Fear of punishment only involves sorrow for getting caught.
Fear of punishment lets us still want to repeat our offense.
Contrition involves repentance, and repentance involves turning from our ways.
Regret only looks to the past whereas contrition involves hope for the future.
Regret does not involve God’s mercy.
Regret does not require a sense of moral responsibility.
One can feel embarrassment about innocent actions.
Embarrassment involves feeling stupid, not feeling sinful.
hatred of one’s own sin:
Contrition involves turning away from sin; hatred of sin need not involve this.
Addicts want to want to change, but do not want to change.
Contrite people are able to submit to confrontation and correction.
One can feel guilty about something without feeling contrite about it.
One can feel justified in their guilt.
Why is contrition good?
Contrition involves faith that God makes things good.
Contrition helps us feel the way God feels about sin.
Contrition helps us want to follow God’s laws.
Contrition causes us to yield to God’s will.
Contrition demonstrates sincerity.
What keeps us from being contrite?
Anger against God’s love
Fear of changing
Lack of feeling
Contrition is not always good—too much could lead to despair.
We can think we feel contrite when in fact we are not contrite.
We can be contrite and also fear punishment, feel regret, be embarrassed, hate our sin, or feel guilt.
Embarrassment could lead to contrition or repentance.
A return to former behavior after being punished implies a lack of contrition.
Realizing “That is me” when others’ sins are similar to our own sin is a step toward contrition.
How does joy differ from other kinds of pleasure?
Joy is not physical pleasure, though it can accompany physical pleasure. Taking pleasure in the meaning and goodness of physical pleasure is joy.
One can experience physical pleasure without experiencing joy.
Joy has a wider range of objects than physical pleasure.
What kinds of things should we be joyful about?
Things we take for granted
Real meaning, purpose
Things that improve life
What keeps us from being joyful?
Apathy—we don’t feel joy toward what we don’t care about.
Blindness to meaning or value
Not living up to meaningful things we are supposed to live up to, such as responsibility
Indulging in bad pleasures
How can we get joy?
Attribute positive meaning to an activity or to life itself
Choose to do things that will give joy
Look for joy in mundane things
Joy is not temporary; it lasts.
Joy is not episodic, but is a disposition.
Joy is constant; it does not waver or fluctuate.
Joy is sometimes contentment in spite of circumstances.
Joy is sometimes contentment because of circumstances.
Joy can motivate us to do virtuous deeds.
Joy that is based on faith in God’s grace is a disposition—a readiness to appreciate divine grace in all situations.
A joyful heart is joyed in expressing virtues.
Why is gratitude good . . .
in cases in which someone gives us something?
It gives us a sense of optimism, an improved perspective.
It fosters a healthy outlook on people.
It blots out the feeling of entitlement.
It pulls us out of self-centeredness.
It cultivates humbleness.
It is good to have “just because,” apart from what it does.
It helps form the habit of being grateful.
Expressing gratitude makes the person who gave us something feel that what they did has worth.
in cases in which we benefit someone?
We can be thankful for the chance to do what is good.
We can be thankful for the virtues that doing good fosters in us, such as compassion and generosity.
We can be thankful for the chance to affirm someone, if the benefit involves that.
We can be thankful for doing what we like to do, when the benefit involves doing something we like.
We can be thankful for someone else’s willingness to learn, when the benefit involves teaching someone something.
We can be grateful for fulfilling a purpose of life.
Having gratitude keeps us from taking things for granted.
in cases in which someone harms us?
We can be thankful for the chance to develop the virtues needed to deal with the harm, such as patience and forgiveness.
Gratitude can turn hostility into peace, maybe even reform.
Having gratitude can diffuse the antagonism caused by the harm.
We can be thankful for our existence.
We can be thankful for the good things God gives.
Being grateful to God fosters holiness and sanctification.
Gratitude toward God is good “just because.”
If thoughts of gratitude and optimism are common in our everyday thoughts, we will more likely give the benefit of the doubt, forgive when we have the right to be angry, and show compassion to someone we barely know.
Gratitude is a tender emotion triggered by an abundance of care.
Sometimes what passes for gratitude is merely someone protecting their own pride by repaying a gift in order to be able to act as though nothing were given.
It is easy to be grateful when you always get what you want.
If we do not actively have gratitude in our hearts toward God, we run the risk of becoming selfish and bitter.
The virtue of gratitude is a disposition rooted in appreciation and goodwill.
A person with gratitude cannot regularly harbor pride, envy, or anger.
People who feel that they are owed things in life are less likely to have gratitude.
Gratitude helps us see the bigger picture of what is and isn’t important.
The cultivation of gratitude causes us to look at bad situations or difficult people in a different way.
Gratitude helps us get past our anger, bitterness, and shallowness.
Once you compare the amount of things you have gotten for yourself with the amount of things others have given you, it puts you in a position of humility and gratitude.
The contentment of gratitude can salve little, everyday frustrations.
A person who returns favors without an inner disposition of appreciation or feelings of good will does not have the virtue of gratitude.
Gratitude is virtuous because it puts us in a happy mood.
Gratitude is among the highest of virtues because it benefits others more than it does ourselves.
A grateful person is likely to be generous.
Three kinds of gratitude
Gratitude is a construal (Robert Roberts, Spiritual Emotions, p. 146). How?
Viewing good things as gifts from God
Seeing good in things
Regarding a gift as valuable; attributing something positive to a gift
The sense of accepting a gift
Recognizing our indebtedness to other forces—not being self-centered
Awareness of our existential needs, plus a readiness to have them met
A sense that we cannot repay our debt to God because God has no needs
How can we become a grateful person?
Construe things in certain ways (see above).
The marks of a person without gratitude
A certain look in their eyes
Feeling as though there is nothing to be grateful for; a person who is in despair may feel this.
Gratitude takes the spotlight off ourselves.
Overcoming harm done to us builds character and a sense of gratitude for being able to overcome the harm.
One who is gracious even when having been wronged may calm a person’s anger or foster friendship.
Much of the good we do for others is not required, but is done because it will make them happy and thankful.
A world without gratitude would lose much of its beauty.
Having gratitude is a remedy for the problems one faces.
Life can become chaotic and downright unbearable sometimes.
Gratitude can find good in all places.
A grateful person will find humility and other virtues easier to cultivate.
Gratitude can encourage others to do their best.
Gratitude can create a tightly woven community of strong relationships.
Gratitude can cause others to be altruistic.
A greedy person will not have gratitude because one cannot be thankful when one’s desires are not filled.
Gratitude produces optimism.
Gratitude can alleviate anger.
Could a proud person have gratitude?
The definition of pride is crucial for answering this question.
A proud person will not want to be in debt to another person.
A proud person has a difficult time feeling gratitude, but may express it out of duty or social pressure.
A proud person finds the feeling of gratitude unpleasant and painful.
“I feel proud and haughty, and I feel grateful at times, but feeling grateful is just not pleasant.”
Is it really gratitude when a person expresses gratitude simply to maintain good relations with others?
How can we be grateful if we do not have full control over our emotions?
© 2012 by the authors and editor
All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced without the consent of the editor.
PART SIX: Hope, Emotional Peace, Compassion