Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Tooth Fairy

Elizabeth's bottom front tooth had been nearly horizontal in her mouth for more than two weeks so I had had plenty of time to prepare for any and all questions regarding the mysterious workings of the Tooth Fairy.
In fact, I readied much like I would if I were working for a client who needed to face the national press corp.
I began by listing typical questions that might be asked. Then, I put together talking points.
These included but were not limited to:
Q: What does the Tooth Fairy do with the teeth she collects?
A: She plants them in her garden where they grow into flowers.
Q: Does the Tooth Fairy know Santa and the Easter Bunny?
A: They went to college together in New Mexico.
Q: Why do some kids get more money than others?
A: The Tooth Fairy delivers treats based on each participant's tooth size and geographic region.
Q: Is the Tooth Fairy tax exempt?
A: The Tooth Fairy runs a 501C3.
But leave it to a creative child to think of the one question I did not.
"Mom," said Elizabeth after she carefully positioned her tooth beneath her pillow, "I have a question for you, you know, because you're a mom and all."
I braced myself.
"How does the Tooth Fairy get into a pirate's bedroom?" she asked. "They sleep with an eyepatch over one eye but keep the other open at all times. They would totally notice the Tooth Fairy."
I suggested that perhaps the Tooth Fairy had high-speed wings that made her travel at the speed of light similar to wireless Internet service. After all, we never see the computer actually hooking up to anything.
"No, no, no," said Elizabeth. "I'm so smart, I even see mosquitoes coming to bite me."
I tried again.
Maybe she disguises herself as a housekeeper coming to clean up the cabin?
"No, Mom, there are no really very tiny maids," Elizabeth said.
I began to grasp at straws.
Possibly the Tooth Fairy camoflagues herself and darts between hiding places such as overturned spyglasses or pirate pants left on the floor?
Elizabeth sighed.
"That's not it either, Mom," she said.
Well, I asked her, what do you think? How does the Tooth Fairy give one-eyed pirates the slip?
"I guess," said Elizabeth, "it's all just magic."
I suppose it is. For all of us.

Friday, July 24, 2009


This is the website for Food, Inc. They also have a companion book that I'll buy and share when we meet.

Add'l reading:
The Omnivore's Dilemma
by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan

Bon Appetite!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Obama Administration's plan for Immigration Policy

Hi Ladies! Here are some links to articles and blogs that I thought were of interest considering our topic. This first one is some good reference material for how our current administration sees the issue of immigration...

Also, we all know that the economy has been at the forefront of conversations these last few months, but now with the swine flu outbreak how might people be changing their priorities when it comes to who comes into our country? As far as I know, people are only being randomly monitored as they enter the US, but this could change if our cases go up.

Okay, this last one might get your blood pressure up. Please don't think that I'm agreeing with anything that's being said, I just think that these will be interesting things to bat around when we get together...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Questions to consider as you read.

If you've lost the e-mail, we're reading "The Geography of Happiness" by Eric Weiner for the April Blue Moon and keeping personal happiness journals... While you're reading and writing, here are a couple of questions to ponder:

1. Which of these societies is most appealing to you? Why?

2. If you grew up in a nation unmentioned in the book, how is happiness defined? Now that you live in America, how do you perceive those ideas? Are they "better" or somehow more nourishing than those in the US?

3. If you grew up in the US but moved from region to region (or city to city), how did the notion of happiness change?

4. Are we as Americans now happy?

5. What is your personal definition of happiness? How has it changed as you've aged? As you're writing in your happiness journal, are you surprised at the things that do--and don't--make you happy?

your link to happiness

Here's the nonprofit dedicated to happiness that Weiner mentions in "Bliss:"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Name That Sin Game

Here's a little test to see if you have been paying attention :) Can you name that Sin?








Answers (A. Envy, B. Lust, C. Gluttony, D. Wrath, E. Sloth, F. Greed, G. Pride)

Still Wanting More? Ha ha... Here's Pride!

Pride: The Anti-Self-Esteem

We're supposed to instill pride in our children to make them stable people. But humility works even better.

Here's why we hate those family newsletters we get during the holidays: "It's been a great year for the Lamplighters! Greg had been hoping for a promotion, but what a surprise when the CEO came to his desk and begged him to take over the company. The whole office chipped in and gave the family a week in Paris to celebrate. Wasn't that nice?

"Of course Jeanne has been busy as well. You probably saw that news item about how she rescued a school bus full of children from a kidnapper, armed only with a plastic comb. Nice to think, too, that the poem she wrote for last year's holiday letter will be chiseled into the wall of the Library of Congress. The twins did so well at the state tap-dance championship that Spielberg is crafting a movie around them, while Greg Jr.'s science fair project was the topic of much excitement in the New England Journal of Medicine."

Pride: we hate it. When we look at the Lamplighters, we sympathize with the ancients who called Pride the chief Deadly Sin.

But here's a modern complication: Isn't pride a good thing when we're proud of our country or football team? Don't we want our kids to be proud of themselves? Isn't it lack of pride, low self-esteem, which causes people to make self-destructive choices in life?

The confusion stems from trying to stretch the little word "pride" over two far-flung meanings. What we dislike in the Lamplighters is narcissism--self-promotion, showing off, vanity. Let's call that Pride One. What we want for our kids is more akin to confidence. We want them to have a healthy, balanced sense of self that won't be tipped over by setbacks or peer pressure--Pride Two. This is a quiet, centered pride that is compatible with modesty because it doesn't have a fretful need to show off.

The difference between Pride One and Pride Two is that the first kind is obsessed with comparisons. Pride One is always asking anxiously, Am I smarter than they are? Richer? Better-looking? This isn't really pride at all, but a fragile shell laid over a pit of self-doubt. The reverse can also be true: a person who appears to have no pride, to be filled with self-loathing, may actually be so convinced of his superiority that he finds his normal human failures devastating. It's a shadow form of Pride One.

Pride Two, on the other hand, is content to refrain from comparative judgments, knowing how meaningless they are. Pride Two's strength comes not from measuring yourself against others, but against your own inner standards. These standards can't be based on arbitrary personal preference; many a bloody tyrant has slept with a tranquil conscience, because his homemade moral standards signed off on his behavior. Pride Two is never so complacent. It has a "workout" quality, as we honor the values of our faith community--honesty, generosity, courage--and keep pushing to meet them. Failures are taken in stride, because we didn't have an exaggerated idea of our abilities in the first place. We learn from mistakes, get up and try again, like a runner always trying to beat his best time.

Pride Two means self-respect, not rootless self-esteem. What's the difference? Self-esteem is like a happy-face sticker; self-respect is like a genuine smile. It can't be acquired by repeating over and over what a swell person you are. You earn it by seeing yourself, day after day, year after year, trying to behave like you believe a swell person should.

Pride Two people are not just admirable, but likeable. They are confident enough to care about others and strong enough to give themselves freely. Because they are familiar with their own shortcomings they don't draw attention to others' faults. They're both strong and kind. When we think about our kids, this is what we want for them--the gentleness that springs from self-assurance, and blooms into compassion.

The funny thing is, when you meet a person like this, you wouldn't think, "My, she certainly is proud!" Pride Two isn't really the right name for this; it doesn't seem like Pride of any sort. It's more like Humility.

Which brings us back to the Lamplighters. If you look at their holiday letter again, you'll notice that it isn't really showing off. They describe events straightforwardly, without embellishment or boasting. They're telling you these things because they thought you were their friend. If you are, you're happy for them and rejoice with them. Their joys do not detract from your own. Their success does not make you a failure.

It turns out the Lamplighters weren't exhibiting Pride One--we were. They simply recounted what happened to them, but we immediately began comparing ourselves with them and feeling angry and put down. A dark, snake-headed bitterness reared up the instant we started reading. We wished that somehow we could prove ourselves better and more important than they are, and see them reduced and humiliated. We judged them, hated them, wanted them hurt. This is why we need a Savior. We look so nice on the outside, but in the caverns of the heart vicious Pride is always brooding, ready to spring. Humility smashes our defenses, enables us to admit these dark emotions that frighten us, and admit we need help to be the people we long to be. No wonder Pride has long been called the great foe of spiritual health. No wonder they call it "Deadly."

Ready for some more sins?

I am apologizing in advance for the flurry of posts that are going to be coming at you in the next few days... but having chosed the SEVEN deadly sins as a topic, I feel obligated to provide info on all seven. I found the following information on Envy contained within the Catholic catechism.


Envy and The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet . . . anything that is your neighbor's. . . . You shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.317

2539 Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the sadness at the sight of another's goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin:
St. Augustine saw envy as "the diabolical sin."327 "From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity."328

2540 Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will. Envy often comes from pride; the baptized person should train himself to live in humility.

Envy causes a person to find a perverted kind of happiness in the misfortunes of others. Since this amounts only to a counterfeit happiness, it inevitably leads to a dark form of sadness, a weighing down of the heart that breeds hatred, theft and even violence. This may help us understand why it is we, as a society, delight in the fall of celebrities.

The definitions of the following sins I found in the Catholic Encyclopedia at

Sloth is the desire for ease, even at the expense of doing the known will of God. Whatever we do in life requires effort. Everything we do is to be a means of salvation. The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it. Sloth becomes a sin when it slows down and even brings to a halt the energy we must expend in using the means to salvation.

Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said Sloth is "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good... [it] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds." (2,35, ad 1)


The desire of vengeance. Its ethical rating depends upon the quality of the vengeance and the quantity of the passion. When these are in conformity with the prescriptions of balanced reason, anger is not a sin. It is rather a praiseworthy thing and justifiable with a proper zeal. It becomes sinful when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive. The sin is then in a general sense mortal as being opposed to justice and charity. It may, however, be venial because the punishment aimed at is but a trifling one or because of lack of full deliberation. Likewise, anger is sinful when there is an undue vehemence in the passion itself, whether inwardly or outwardly. Ordinarily it is then accounted a venial sin unless the excess be so great as to go counter seriously to the love of God or of one's neighbour.


(From Lat. gluttire, to swallow, to gulp down), the excessive indulgence in food and drink. The moral deformity discernible in this vice lies in its defiance of the order postulated by reason, which prescribes necessity as the measure of indulgence in eating and drinking. This deordination, according to the teaching of the Angelic Doctor, may happen in five ways which are set forth in the scholastic verse: "Prae-propere, laute, nimis, ardenter, studiose" or, according to the apt rendering of Father Joseph Rickably: too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily.
Clearly one who uses food or drink in such a way as to injure his health or impair the mental equipment needed for the discharge of his duties, is guilty of the sin of gluttony. It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony. Such a temper of soul is equivalently the direct and positive shutting out of that reference to our last end which must be found, at least implicitly, in all our actions.
At the same time it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one's mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God. Gluttony is in general a venial sin in so far forth as it is an undue indulgence in a thing which is in itself neither good nor bad. Of course it is obvious that a different estimate would have to be given of one so wedded to the pleasures of the table as to absolutely and without qualification live merely to eat and drink, so minded as to be of the number of those, described by the Apostle St. Paul, "whose god is their belly" (Philippians 3:19). Such a one would be guilty of mortal sin. Likewise a person who, by excesses in eating and drinking, would have greatly impaired his health, or unfitted himself for duties for the performance of which he has a grave obligation, would be justly chargeable with mortal sin.
St. John of the Cross, in his work "The Dark Night of the Soul" (I, vi), dissects what he calls spiritual gluttony. He explains that it is the disposition of those who, in prayer and other acts of religion, are always in search of sensible sweetness; they are those who "will feel and taste God, as if he were palpable and accessible to them not only in Communion but in all their other acts of devotion." This he declares is a very great imperfection and productive of great evils.


Avarice (from Latin avarus, "greedy"; "to crave") is the inordinate love for riches. Its special malice, broadly speaking, lies in that it makes the getting and keeping of money, possessions, and the like, a purpose in itself to live for. It does not see that these things are valuable only as instruments for the conduct of a rational and harmonious life, due regard being paid of course to the special social condition in which one is placed. It is called a capital vice because it has as its object that for the gaining or holding of which many other sins are committed. It is more to be dreaded in that it often cloaks itself as a virtue, or insinuates itself under the pretext of making a decent provision for the future. In so far as avarice is an incentive to injustice in acquiring and retaining of wealth, it is frequently a grievous sin. In itself, however, and in so far as it implies simply an excessive desire of, or pleasure in, riches, it is commonly not a mortal sin.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Let me first say that I am not Catholic – I am not trying to convert anyone to Catholicism. But since it was the Catholics who developed the list of Seven Deadly Sins, I thought studying their catechism might help us get started.

What is sin?

According to the Catholic Catechism:


1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."121

1850 Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight."122 Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods,"123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God."124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125

1853 The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man."128 But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.


1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,129 became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."131


1866 Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices.138 They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.

1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What does your Faith Say About Lust?

Buddhism Buddhism encourages renouncing sensual pleasures. Sensuous lust is considered one of Buddhism's five hindrances. The Buddha taught that lust is a result of desire, which must be abandoned to reach enlightenment. The Buddha formulated 5 precepts of Right Conduct One of these is: "I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct." Buddhists interpret this precept in different ways, but most believe that consensual sexual relations between a couple are okay, and that sexual misconduct would include adultery, rape, incest, and other sexual abuse.

The Dhammapada teaches, "Those who are infatuated with lust fall back into the stream, as does a spider into the web spun by itself. This too the wise cut off, and wander, with no longing, released from all sorrow (Dhammapada 13)."

Other Buddhist texts go further, to say that lust is evil. The Itivuttaka states, "Monks, there are these three roots of evil. What three? "Lust is a root of evil, hate is a root of evil, delusion is a root of evil. These are the three roots of evil." And as Buddhaghosa wrote in the Visuddhimagga, "Of the divine state of love the near enemy is lust, because, like love, it sees good qualities. It is like a foe lurking near a man. Quickly it finds access. Hence love should be well protected from lust."

Christianity Christianity generally teaches that lust is sinful. In the New Testament, Jesus says that to lust after a person who is not one's wife is the same as committing adultery. In his Sermon on the Mount, he explains, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28)."

Other New Testament writers affirm the idea that sex should only occur within marriage, and that natural impulses outside of marriage only lead to trouble. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband (1 Corinthians 7)."

Further evidence that lust is a sin in Christianity comes from 1 John, where lust is described as being ungodly: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:16)." Some contemporary Christians understand lust as being sinful only if one acts upon the temptation, not merely if one is lured. But Christian denominations generally teach that lust is wrong. Catholicism considers lust a capital sin. The Catholic Catechism states, "Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes (Verse 2351)."

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints warns that a heterosexual marriage is the only proper way to satisfy lust. The Mormon Doctrine & Covenant states, "And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out (42:23)."

Hinduism In Hinduism, renunciation of selfish desire leads to wisdom, and lust is one of the primary selfish desires. Avoiding lust is one of Hinduism's yamas, the restraints that Hindus observe in following Hindu dharma. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that lust is a "mighty enemy (3:43)," a selfish desire that must be overcome in order to reach realization. The Gita continues, "Pleasures conceived in the world of the senses have a beginning and an end and give birth to misery, Arjuna. The wise do not look for happiness in them. But those who overcome the impulses of lust and anger which arise in the body are made whole and live in joy. They find their joy, their rest, and their light completely within themselves. United with the Lord, they attain nirvana in Brahman (Bhagavad Gita 5:22-24)."
Hinduism also teaches that followers should live a life of brahmacharya, or divine conduct. This is usually interpreted as proper sexual conduct, or sexual purity. Being celibate when single, or maintaining a faithful marriage, are ways of practicing brahmacharya.

Islam The Qur'an and the hadith, sayings of the Prophet, prohibit lust. Lust can impinge on a person's path to Allah, as the Qur'an states, "Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve (Surah 4:135)." People who act on lust are not among the believers, as the Qur'an says, "Allah doth wish to Turn to you, but the wish of those who follow their lusts is that ye should turn away (from Him), far, far away (4:27)."
Muslims view the fast of Ramadan is a way of inhibiting lust. The month-long fast during daylight hours, helps Muslims subdue feelings of greed and lust, as they are not permitted to eat or have sexual intercourse during the fast. Fasting is considered a way of "cooling sexual passion," as Bukhari reports in the hadith: "Young men, those of you who can support a wife should marry, for it keeps you from looking at women (lit., lowers your gaze) and preserves your chastity; but those who cannot should fast, for it is a means of cooling sexual passion."
Fornication is sinful in Islam, and the hadith explain that fornication is not just the act of intercourse. Similar to Christianity, lustful glances or thoughts are also wrong. As Abu Hurairah reports in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet said, "The fornication of the eyes is to look with lust; the fornication of the tongue is to speak lustful things; the fornication of the hands is to touch with lust; the fornication of the feet is to walk towards lust; the fornication of the heart is to desire evil." Similarly, Abu Musa reported in Tirmidhi that the Prophet said, "Every eye is adulterous (when it cast glances with lust on strange women) and when a woman perfumes herself and passes a company, she is such and such" [meaning adulterous].

Judaism Jewish tradition teaches that lust is natural and that both men and women have a sexual drive. Lust is considered a result of the yetzer harah, the evil inclination, which is part of every human being. The yetzer harah is necessary, as one Midrash explains, "were it not for the yetzer hara (the evil urge), a man would not build a house, take a wife, beget children, or engage in commerce." Lust, while stemming from the evil inclination, is necessary for sex, and sex is necessary for reproduction.
But reproduction is not the only reason to have sex, and Judaism teaches that sex for pleasure is a mitzvah, or good deed, though this is traditionally as long as sex is part of a marriage. Sex should not take place to satisfy lust alone, however, as the rabbis teach that sex that is purely lustful, and not out of love, cannot build a successful relationship.
As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains in "Jewish Wisdom," "...the Talmud never associated saintliness with a dormant libido." He explains that the great rabbis often struggled with their sexual passions. The Talmud even states, "The greater a man, the greater his evil inclination (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a)."
The rabbis understood that women have a sexual drive as well as men. Telushkin quotes from the Mishna, "If a man forbids himself by vow from having intercourse with his wife, the School of Shammai says [she must go along with the vow] for up to two weeks [if it lasts longer, the court can compel him to divorce her], but the school of Hillel says for [only] one week."
Judaism also teaches that lust that results in male masturbation is wrong, as men are not supposed to spill their seed in vain.

Today's Sin: Lust
New Statesman Essay 3 - In defense of lust
Simon BlackburnMonday 15th December 2003
Simple desire gets a worse press than love because it really does make fools of men, even of presidents. But Simon Blackburn sees its virtuous side.
Broad-minded though we take ourselves to be, lust gets a bad press. It is the fly in the ointment, the black sheep of the family, the ill-bred, trashy cousin of upstanding members like love and friendship. It lives on the wrong side of the tracks, lumbers around elbowing its way into too much of our lives, and blushes when it comes into company.Some people like things a little on the trashy side. But not most of us, most of the time. We smile at lovers holding hands in the park, but wrinkle our noses if we find them acting out their lust under the bushes. Love thrives on candlelight and conversation. Lust is equally happy in a doorway or in a taxi, and its conversation is made of animal grunts and cries. Love is individual: there is only the unique Other. Lust takes what comes. Lovers gaze into each other's eyes. Lust looks sideways, inventing deceits, stratagems and seductions, sizing up opportunities. Love grows with knowledge and time, courtship, truth and trust. Lust is a trail of clothing in the hallway, the collision of two football packs. Love lasts, lust cloys.
So it might seem quixotic or paradoxical, or even indecent, to try and speak up for lust. The philosopher David Hume wrote that a virtue was any quality of mind "useful or agreeable to the person himself or to others". Lust has a good claim to qualify. Indeed, that understates it because lust is not merely useful but essential. We would none of us be here without it. So the task I set myself is to clean off some of the mud, to rescue it from the echoing denunciations of old men of the deserts, to deliver it from the pallid and envious confessors of Rome and the disgust of the Renaissance, to destroy the stocks and pillories of the Puritans, to separate it from other things that we know drag it down (for there are worse things than lust, things that make pure lust itself impure), and so to lift it from the category of sin to that of virtue.
Some might deny that there is any task left to accomplish. We are emancipated, they say. We live in a healthy, if sexualised, culture. We affirm life and all its processes. We have already shaken off prudery and embarrassment. Sex is no longer shameful. Our attitudes are fine. So why worry?
I find myself at one with many feminists in thinking this cheery complacency odious, and not just because the expressions of a sexualised culture are all too often dehumanising, to men and especially to women, and even to children.
It would seem that the matter of lust is not only venereal desires and pleasures. For Augustine says (Confessions ii, 6) that "lust affects to be called surfeit and abundance". But surfeit regards meat and drink, while abundance refers to riches. Therefore lust is not properly about venereal desires and pleasures.He also worried that lust had been defined by previous authority as "the desire of wanton pleasure". But then wanton pleasure regards not only venereal matters but also many others. Therefore lust is not only about venereal desires and pleasures.
Aquinas was right to worry about getting this part of the subject straight. In many lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, lust is replaced by luxuria or luxury. This is not an innocent mistake, but reflects the urge to inject something morally obnoxious into the definition. If we associate lust with excess and surfeit, then its case is already lost. But it is a cheap victory: excessive desire is bad because it is excessive, not because it is desire. If we build the notion of excess into the definition, the desire is damned simply by its name. And the notion of excess is certainly in the wings. If we say that someone has a lust for gold, we imply more than that he simply wants money, like the rest of us. It is not just that gold puts a gleam into his eye, it is that nothing else does, or gold puts too bright a gleam.
There are many dimensions of excess. A desire might be excessive in its intensity if, instead of merely wanting something, we are too preoccupied by it or are unduly upset by not getting it. Alternatively, a desire might be excessive in its scope, as when someone wants not just power, but complete power, or not just gold, but all the gold. Sexual desire could be excessive in either way. It might preoccupy someone too much, and it might ask for too much.
There is another way in which lust might seem in and of itself excessive, admitting of no moderation. Eating relieves our desire for food, our hunger. And we combine it with other activities, such as talking or reading or watching television. But the activity that relieves our lust typically blocks out other functions. It doesn't literally make us blind, even temporarily, and we would be quick to desist if the wrong visitor arrived. But it is as close to ecstasy - to standing outside ourselves - as many of us get. It even drives out prayer, which is part of the church's complaint against it.
We must not allow the critics of lust to intrude the notion of excess, just like that. We should no more criticise lust because it can get out of hand than we criticise hunger because it can lead to gluttony, or thirst because it can lead to drunkenness.
Simon Blackburn is professor of philosophy at Cambridge University. This is an edited extract from his book Lust, part of a series of essays on the Seven Deadly Sins, which will be published next year by Oxford University Press

Friday, February 20, 2009

File Under "Tell Me Something I Don't Know"

From Morning Edition this morning:

Survey: Men, Women Sin Differently
Listen Now

Morning Edition, February 20, 2009 · A survey of catholic confessions is out. A 95-year-old Jesuit scholar looked at which of the seven deadly sins are the most popular. Among men, lust took first prize, with gluttony coming in second. For women, pride was the big winner followed by envy. The pope's personal theologian told the Vatican newspaper, "men and women sin in different ways."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Do The World's Major Religions Say About Envy?

Like greed, envy is a quality that keeps a person in a state of samsara, or continual rebirths. Envy runs counter to the concept of giving. One who gives is freed from envy, as the Majjhima Nikaya states, " A person who gives freely is loved by all. It's hard to understand, but it is by giving that we gain strength. But there is a proper time and proper way to give, and the person who understands this is strong and wise. By giving with a feeling of reverence for life, envy and anger are banished. " Milarepa, the 11th-century Buddhist poet and sage, described envy as one of the six fetters of non-liberation.

Christianity Christians follow the Ten Commandments and heed the tenth, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." The sin of envy is explained in the Gospel, as the book of Luke states: "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist of his possessions (Luke 12:15)." Saint Thomas Aquinas defined envy as "sorrow for another's good." In Catholic thought, envy runs counter to the supreme virtue, charity. Envy also may lead to other vices, including hatred and rejoicing over the misfortunes of others. Orthodox Christians believe similary - the Apostolic Fathers wrote that jealousy was a more wicked sin than other sins because it was hidden, and that envy is the root of all evils. Mormons eschew envy as well. "See that ye love one another; cease to be covetous; learn to impart one to another as the gospel requires," the Mormon Doctrine & Covenant states.
Hinduism Like avoidance of greed, avoidance of envy is one of the Hindu yamas, or restraints. Covetousness falls under the yama of asteya, or nonstealing. The yamas are seen by Hindus as advice, but not as commandments.

Hindu texts are also explicit about avoiding envy. "Among the profuse precious things a man may acquire, none surpasses a nature free from envy toward all," the Tirukkural states. The Isha Upanishad warns, "Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord. Thus working you may live a hundred years. Thus alone will you work in real freedom." The Hindu legend of Prahlad, which the Hindu holiday Holi commemorates, teaches that the pursuit of physical pleasures leads to envy and anger and does not bring happiness.
Islam The Qur'an warns against envy, encouraging believers to be satisfied with their lot: "And do not covet what we bestowed upon any other people. Such are temporary ornaments of this life, whereby we put them to the test. What your Lord provides for you is far better, and everlasting (Surah 20:131)." The sayings of the Prophet reveal what Muhammad thought about envy. "The faithful believer emulates, but does never envy," one hadith relates. The 10th century Islamic philosopher Razi wrote that "envy is worse than miserliness: misers do not want to give anything of their own to others; envious people do not want others to receive anything, regardless of who owns it."

Judaism In Jewish texts, envy is first mentioned in the Torah, with the 10th commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." Later Jewish writings expand on envy. The Proverbs state, "A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; but envy is the rottenness of the bones." The 13th-century Torah scholar Nachmanides commented on Exodus 20:17 that "if man subdues his desire he will never harm his neighbor."

Jewish texts explain that envy is not just wanting what one doesn't have. It includes these qualities: longing for another's possessions, discontent with one's possessions because one prefers those of another, and the appropriation of the property of another. (See As Rabbi David Wolpe writes, the Jewish High Holiday literature describes envy as "narrowness of vision," which includes being unable to recognize the success of others. Like the Jewish concept of greed, there are instances when envy can be good, as it can increase people's motivation to do better.



This is a great article published in Washington Monthly July 2003 by Joseph Epstein. His description of envy helped me to understand why it is we love to see the famous fall. We envy what they have, we love to see it taken from them.

The Green-Eyed Monster
Envy is nothing to be jealous of.
By Joseph Epstein

Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all. Sloth may not seem that enjoyable, nor anger either, but giving way to deep laziness has its pleasures, and the expression of anger entails a release that is not without its small delights. In recompense, envy may be the subtlest--perhaps I should say the most insidious--of the seven deadly sins. Surely it is the one that people are least likely to want to own up to, for to do so is to admit that one is probably ungenerous, mean, small-hearted. It may also be the most endemic. Apart from Socrates, Jesus, Marcus Aurelius, Saint Francis, Mother Teresa, and only a few others, at one time or another, we have all felt flashes of envy, even if in varying intensities, from its minor pricks to its deep, soul-destroying, lacerating stabs. So widespread is it--a word for envy, I have read, exists in all known languages--that one is ready to believe it is the sin for which the best argument can be made that it is part of human nature.

In politics, envy, or at any rate the hope of eliminating it, is said to be the reigning principle of socialism, as greed is said to be that of capitalism (though modern capitalist advertising is about few things more than the regular stimulation of envy). On the international scene, many if not most wars have been fought because of one nation's envy of another's territory and all they derive from it, or out of jealously guarded riches that a nation feels are endangered by those less rich who are likely to be envious of their superior position. In this connection, it is difficult not to feel that, at least in part, much of the anti-American feeling that arose after September 11, 2001, had envy, some of it fairly rancorous, at its heart. In the magazine Granta, the Indian writer Ramachandra Guha wrote that "historically, anti-Americanism in India was shaped by an aesthetic distaste for America's greatest gift--the making of money." But can "aesthetic distaste" here be any more than a not-very-well-disguised code word for envy?

Is envy a "feeling," an "emotion," a "sin," a "temperamental disposition," or a "world-view"? Might it also be a Rorschach test: Tell what you envy, and you reveal a great deal about yourself. It can be all of these things--and more. No one would doubt that, whatever else it is, envy is certainly a charged, indeed a supercharged, word: One of the few words left in the English language that retains the power to scandalize. Most of us could still sleep decently if accused of any of the other six deadly sins; but to be accused of envy would be seriously distressing, so clearly does such an accusation go directly to character. The other deadly sins, though all have the disapproval of religion, do not so thoroughly, so deeply demean, diminish, and disqualify a person. Not the least of its stigmata is the pettiness implicit in envy.

The Webster's definition of the word won't quite do: "(1) Obs. malice; (2) painful or resentful awareness of the advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage." The Oxford English Dictionary is rather better: It defines envy first as "malignant or hostile feeling; ill-will, malice, enmity," and then as "active evil, harm, mischief," both definitions accounted Obscure. But the great OED only gets down to serious business in its third definition, where it defines envy as "the feeling of mortification and ill-will occasioned by the contemplation of superior advantages possessed by another," in which usage the word envy first pops up around 1500. It adds a fourth definition, one in which the word is used without "notions of malevolence," and has to do with the (a) "desire to equal another in achievement, or excellence; emulation," and (b) speaks to "a longing for the advantages enjoyed by another person." Aristotle, in The Rhetoric, writes of emulation as good envy, or envy ending in admiration and thus in the attempt to imitate the qualities one began by envying. Yet it must be added that envy doesn't generally work this way. Little is good about envy, except shaking it off, which, as any of us who have felt it deeply knows, is not so easily done.

Both the OED and Webster's definitions are inattentive to the crucial distinction between envy and jealousy. Most people, failing to pick up the useful distinction, mistakenly use the two words interchangeably. I suspect people did not always do so. H. W. Fowler, in his splendid Modern English Usage of 1926, carries no entry on either word, suggesting that formerly there was no confusion. Bryan A. Garner, in his 1998 Dictionary of Modern American Usage, says that "the careful writer distinguishes between these terms," but does not himself do so sufficiently. He writes that "jealousy is properly restricted to contexts involving affairs of the heart, envy is used more broadly of resentful contemplation of a more fortunate person."

With the deep pedantic delight one takes in trumping a recognized usage expert, it pleases me to say, "Not quite so." The real distinction is that one is jealous of what one has, envious of what other people have. Jealousy is not always pejorative; one can after all be jealous of one's dignity, civil rights, honor. Envy, except when used in the emulative sense mentioned by Aristotle, is always pejorative. If jealousy is, in cliché parlance, spoken of as the "green-eyed monster," envy is cross-, squinty-, and blearily red-eyed. Never, to put it very gently, a handsome or good thing, envy. Although between jealousy and envy, jealousy is often the more intensely felt of the two, it can also be the more realistic: One is, after all, sometimes correct to feel jealousy. And not all jealousy plays the familiar role of sexual jealousy. One may be jealous--again, rightly--of one's reputation, integrity, and other good things. One is almost never right to feel envy: To be envious is to be, ipso facto, wrong.

Apart from emulative envy, the only aspect of envy that does not seem to me pejorative is a form of envy I have myself felt, as I suspect have others who are reading this article: the envy that I think of as faith envy. This is the envy one feels for those who have the true and deep and intelligent religious faith that sees them through the darkest of crises, death among them. If one is oneself without faith and wishes to feel this emotion, I cannot recommend a better place to find it than in the letters of Flannery O'Connor. There one will discover a woman still in her thirties, who, after coming into her radiant talent, knows she is going to die well before her time and, fortified by her Catholicism, faces her end without voicing complaint or fear. I not long ago heard, in Vienna, what seemed to me a perfect rendering of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and was hugely moved by it, but how much more would I have been moved, I could not help wonder, if I were in a state of full religious belief, since the Ninth Symphony seems to me in many ways a religious work. Faith envy is envy, alas, about which one can do nothing but quietly harbor it.

Envy must also be distinguished from general yearning. One sees people at great social ease and wishes to be more like them; or feels keenly how good it would be once more to be young; or longs to be wealthier; or pines to be taller, thinner, more muscular, less awkward, more beautiful generally. All this is yearning. Envy is never general, but always very particular--at least envy of the kind one feels strongly.

The envious tend to be injustice collectors. "Envy, among other ingredients, has a love of justice in it," William Hazlitt wrote. "We are more angry at undeserved than at deserved good fortune." Something to it, but, my sense is, not all that much. Much more often than not, envy expresses feelings more personal than the love of justice. In another useful distinction, Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death wrote that "admiration is happy self-surrender; envy is unhappy self-satisfaction." Envy asks one leading question: What about me? Why does he or she have beauty, talent, wealth, power, the world's love, and other gifts, or at any rate a larger share of them than I? Why not me? Dorothy Sayers, in a little book on the seven deadly sins, writes: "Envy is the great leveler: if it cannot level things up, it will level them down Š At its best, envy is a climber and a snob; at its worst it is a destroyer--rather than have anyone happier than itself, it will see us all miserable together." A self-poisoning of the mind, envy is usually less about what one lacks than about what other people have. A strong element of the begrudging resides in envy, thus making the envious, as Immanuel Kant remarked in The Metaphysics of Morals, "intent on the destruction of the happiness of others."
One might call someone or something--another's family life, health, good fortune--"enviable" without intending rancor. In the same way, one might say, "I envy you your two-month holiday in the south of France," without, in one's mind, plotting how to do the person out of it. Or one might say, "I don't envy him the responsibilities of his job," by which one merely means that one is pleased not to have another's worries. There probably ought to be a word falling between envy and admiration, as there ought to be a word that falls between talent and genius. Yet there isn't. The language is inept.

Nor ought envy to be confused with open conflict. Someone has something that one feels one wants--customers, a high ranking or rating, government office, a position of power--and one contends for it, more or less aggressively, but out in the open. The openness changes the nature of the game. Envy is almost never out in the open; it is secretive, plotting, behind the scenes. Helmut Schoeck, who in Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior has written the most comprehensive book on the subject, notes that it "is a silent, secretive process and not always verifiable." Envy, to qualify as envy, has to have a strong touch--sometimes more than a touch--of malice behind it. Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor, and spite all cluster at the center of envy. La Rochefoucauld opened the subject of envy nicely with a silver stiletto, when he wrote: "In the misfortune of our best friends, we always find something that is not displeasing to us." Yes, really not displeasing at all. Dear old envy.

Joseph Epstein is the author, most recently, of Fabulous Small Jews: A Collection of Stories. This article is excerpted from his forthcoming book, Envy (Oxford University Press, August 2003).