Sins and virtues

I was recently reading a book where seven sins were mentioned – pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.

I looked at this list, and my first thought was that this just doesn’t feel right; those don’t really look like sins. They look like symptoms.

You see, a sin, by definition, would be a choice against God. This choice would then produce a spiritual fall, and once in a state of depravity and fall from Divine grace, a soul would exhibit symptoms of what Bhagavad-gita would attribute to the gunas of the Prakrti: tamas, rajas and sattva, where qualities of tamas would be laziness (sloth), ignorance and so on, symptoms of rajas would be wrath, pride, envy, lust and so on, and symptoms of sattva would be, essentially, religion and mysticism devoid of transcendence – basically, attempts to be virtuous but without a true connection with God, without whom virtue is impossible.

So, if those “deadly sins” are more symptoms of a fallen state than causes of the fall itself, what then are the true sins – the actual causes of apostasy from God? It is a very difficult question, because, obviously, people who compile the lists of sins and virtues always try to moralize, and I don’t think it’s actually helpful, because the actual saints never actually seem to live up to those expectations, and yet that is what makes them feel alive, impressive and fun: things that would make them seem flawed from a moralistic perspective are actually a spark of life that makes them feel real and impressive. I have read exchanges between St. Augustine and St. Jerome, and I find them really entertaining, because they are both right and wrong about certain things, they can argue from different points of view, and they both make mistakes. They are not virtuous because their lives are devoid of all sins from some list; they are virtuous because it is obvious that they both are trying to do the right thing – establish truth, guide people from ignorance to knowledge, and seek supremacy of God over the lowly things of this world. Sure, they are sometimes prideful, wrathful, ignorant and commit logical fallacies, but I don’t mind – it makes me smile and even laugh, because I see the spark of Divinity in their flaws. Their “sins” don’t feel like some terrible depravity they are made out to be; if anything, they are funny, the way a small scared kitten hissing at you is funny.

On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of fake saints, people who work from a list of saintly virtues and try to act as if they are holy by appropriating them, and my reaction to those is the opposite – I feel disgust and anger at their falsehood, despite the fact that such a fake person can formally have less flaws than St. Augustine, whose flaws don’t bother me in the slightest, and I instead feel joy because of his goodness and accomplishments. Obviously, those lists of virtues and sins are somewhat or fully misguided, because they miss the actual point of what it is like to be in this terrible hell of a world, because, you see, to be here and not manifest all kinds of symptoms of terrible anguish, and not resort to all kinds of coping mechanisms during your mostly failed and futile attempts to break through and find your way out, means you’re closer to a rock in your nature, than an angel. In the language of Bhagavad-gita, it’s easy to tell whether something comes from the mode of rajas or not. It is easy to say whether something is of pride, anger or wrath. It is much more difficult to distinguish whether the things that are not of rajas are in fact of tamas or sattva, because some things that look like virtues are merely symptoms of being a lifeless, spiritless husk, devoid of any valuable and positive content.

This might sound abstract, so let me make a thought experiment. Let’s imagine an angel of God who somehow got stuck here in this world, for some unknown reason, and is born in a human body. What will he feel, not being able to sense God’s presence, being separated from all knowledge and power, and being assailed by a torrent of uncomfortable sensations? If you think he’ll act like a paragon of virtue, you’re an idiot. No, he’ll try to find his way out by testing what reminds him of his dear Lord, whose presence he can no longer establish. He will try all kinds of things, failing repeatedly and suffering in his loss and depravity. He will metaphorically try to scrape his nails at the impenetrable illusion of this world until his fingers bleed, alternating between hope, frustration and despondency, he will try to find comfort in sex, food, music or other things in this world, and feel despair as it all fails, and the stupid moralisers who compile lists of sins will find abundant examples in his behaviour, and scarcely any “virtues”, yet I will recognize him as sinless and virtuous in all his terrible suffering and depravity, because all he is looking for is God, and it is not a sin to fail.

On the other hand, how pathetic does one have to be to fake virtues in order to impress human audience? How pathetic would you have to be to even care about the opinion of other deluded humans in this place, instead of trying to break free? How pathetic would one have to be not to feel terrible pain of God’s absence, and instead fuck around with this foolish nonsense?

Because, in my world, the actual virtue is to need God above all things, and if the symptom of this profound need in this world is terrible suffering, which results in all kinds of mistakes and coping mechanisms, I see none of this as a sin, no more than I would see a desperately hungry man’s attempt to eat tree bark as sinful. If anything, it would merit compassion.

So, what are true sins, then? That is a much harder question for me to answer, because I’m not sure reality works that way. Is a rock sinful? Is it virtuous because it is not sinful? You can’t be either sinful or virtuous if you lack the capacity, and this, in most cases, will be the answer. I personally observed “souls” of many beings; a wasp is unrefined and cruel, but if you ask me whether it’s better than a rock, I would have to agree. A bird or a dog has a soul that is more refined than that of a wasp – still coarse, but less so. So, evolution and growth in refinement, sophistication and general quantitative increase of merit across multiple dimensions makes for the difference between a rock and a divine being, but when you take a divine being and put them into this world, if you expect them to act like some paragon of virtue adhering to a list compiled by some philosopher or a theologian, you are a fool. You would be right to expect them to suffer terribly and struggle fruitlessly, try to cope with failure and fail even at that. If you see the motivation behind their struggle, their pain, humiliation and steadfast attempts to break through, and instead of tears of compassion this invokes sanctimonious judgment, it only means that in the coordinate system of spiritual advancement you are closer to a rock than to a holy angel of God.