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.