Emotions, Sins, and Virtues

A Christian view of ethics defines a set of thought crimes claimed to be the seven deadly sins. This ultimate list of the most evil emotions have seven virtues to counter them and guide Christian lives. Here’s the apparent do’s and don’ts for being emotionally right:

Vice : Virtue
Lust : Chastity
Gluttony : Temperance
Greed : Charity
Sloth : Diligence
Wrath : Patience
Envy : Kindness
Pride : Humility

Religions oversimplify their fictional guidance and it’s usually easy for me to see huge flaws in their charlatan sales pitches now that my mind isn’t clouded by blind faith. Hidden underneath this obvious attempt at controlling human behavior are some of our most basic emotions. These real emotions are as much a part of our humanity as the molecules that make up our bodies. Where’s the love, laughter, and overall happiness in this scheme? Where’s the healthy fear of dangerous situations that kicks in for the self-preservation and continuation of our species? Where’s the positive side of feeling anger at perceived injustices that drives us to act in defense of others?

I can look at this list and see some right in the vices and wrong in the virtues because emotions aren’t this simple. Would it really be bad if my desire for my wife or any woman is on the lustful end of the spectrum? Unleashing wrath against people that are screwing over others usually improves the situation. The religious didn’t stick to patience in World War II. Too much charity can promote dependency on the givers and isn’t a virtuous situation in the long term. The caregiver could abuse people’s dependency and that might be the real motivation for religions to promote charity. The thought often crosses my mind every time I see religions spreading their message through charitable acts.

The Christian sins and virtues try to tell us how much of an emotion we should have and where on the scale we should have them. Emotions aren’t this simple and the main flaw here is thinking they come from some higher order act of creation instead of from our most basic biology. Ekman’s list of six basic emotions is: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. A newer classification list from Plutchik lists eight primary bipolar emotions which blend into additional emotions on a wheel of emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation.

Love and awe are emotions built from the more basic animal emotions I see in my cat and dog. You would think our most basic desire is to keep experiencing good emotions and avoid the bad ones. However, doesn’t it sometimes feel good in our core to experience some of the generally bad emotions? Having just come out of Halloween it’s easy to point out that we do seek out the excitement of fear and sometimes find humor in disgust. I can find good and bad in each emotion depending on the situations we experience them in considering the full spectrum of human emotions and life situations.

The seven deadly sins aren’t deadly and they aren’t as clearly negative as the label of sin might suggest. The same holds true for the supposed virtues. Our emotions are complex and we each have to struggle with how we feel them and what we do with those feelings. The only thing I know is that each emotion isn’t permanent as they come and go. I think we can change how we feel and how they impact our overall moods because what we do helps impact which emotions we encounter. I think love and joy can be emotions we choose to build up in ourselves from our more basic emotions coming from the choices we make. Happiness has nothing to do with religions and gods and has everything to do with what we do with our own bodies and minds.

I may not know exactly how or why existence came to be, but it’s obvious from my observations that we’re naturally emotional creatures lacking any specific natural disposition for our emotions. Agnosticism should lead you to question the guidance and motives of anybody claiming special knowledge that we were created as sinners and their beliefs are needed to become virtuous.

Human Frailty

I’ve often looked at human physical frailty and weaknesses as another sign that we don’t really know what we’re talking about as far as a divine creation that created us in the perfect image of a creator. We just have too many single points of failure and oddities to our anatomy as a living organism for me to not believe there is definite support for the theories of evolution to explain our build from such a flawed original image. I think how it all got into motion and started as a first spark of life is beyond our understanding, but overall I think we’re a mess that just mutated and evolved into what you see today.

I now have a more personal feeling of frailty to help highlight these thoughts. I just got diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. It’s a sudden and odd thing that will most likely go away in a few months but it does make me feel a little helpless and frustrated. It doesn’t even look like much of a visibly noticable problem to others, but not being able to blink one eye and losing control of one side of my mouth is tiring and troublesome.

Today at work a person said “it kind of makes you wonder ‘why me?’ doesn’t it?” No, it didn’t. I said I know why it happened to me. It’s just a random thing in a random universe. A certain sequence of events that doctors don’t apparently fully understand happened and now I have this facial paralysis that others have had and will have in the future unless doctor’s can figure out a quick cure or correction to this one like they have for many other physical ailments.

The human ability to overcome our environment is the real answer for such problems. I have old friends on Facebook that say they’re praying for me because that’s what they believe and do. We could go down all of the thought processes that if there was a god then he created Bell’s palsy or allows it to happen at least so such a god probably wouldn’t do anything about this. I find it to be such a laugh that some might even think it’s a punishment for me. My life’s been pretty great so far even with this minor medical issue. I don’t feel punished at all.

No, the real answer to any situation like this will be for doctor’s to continue to figure out something better to do about our frail bodies. If we stayed in the dark ages and tried to pray away all of our ills then any number of plagues or other issues would be wiping out humanity today. A simple thing like CPR doesn’t come from a god or a bible. Fortunately we have people that know in their hearts that prayers won’t do anything for us so we have to heal ourselves. It’s just too bad one of these pills they’ve given me hasn’t let me wake up the next day with restored functionality of my face. Oh well, that’s life and a byproduct of our mysterious existence in the universe.

I’ve read that some people when faced with severe medical issues will turn to religion for comfort. I can’t pretend Bell’s palsy is anything more than a minor deal, and it really is compared to anything else that could go wrong, but even with this I don’t understand how religion provides anything more than questions starting with my coworker’s simple “Why me?” Why am I made to suffer? Why won’t my god help me when I ask? Why does this problem even exist? What is the purpose of this?

Thanks, but I already have my answers and it is because I’m Agnostic I know that many things just happen randomly as a part of existence. I know that if there are any higher reasons to any of this then it is beyond our understanding. If you believe in a religion and think everything has a purpose, then look at what this has done for me. It caused me to once again write something critical of what you believe and reenforced my own beliefs enough to share this viewpoint with others. What if it’s all a part of the universe’s plan to prompt me into action to spread the real truth about reality? Religions are human fiction, it’s all beyond our understanding, and you don’t really know. 🙂