We’ve all been raised with at least some awareness of the 7 deadly sins. What exactly are these sins, so fundamental to the Christian concept of original sin?
Mark 7:20 contains one of Jesus’ most damning verdicts on the human condition—one of many. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone quote it. Matthew 15:10-20 echoes Jesus’ scathing indictment of humanity and adds a little more context.
The teaching begins with Jesus calling the crowd together and telling them that God isn’t concerned with their ritual practices around food and hygiene. “The food that you put into your mouth doesn’t make you unclean” (Mark 7:15-16 CEV). “Eating without washing your hands will not make you unfit to worship God” (Matthew 15:20).
Clean and unclean
The Old Testament contains many injunctions against unclean behaviour. Isaiah 65:4 damns unclean practices. “They eat the meat of pigs, cooked in sauces made of stuff unfit to eat”. Jesus directly contravenes these, causing consternation among his disciples.
After leaving the crowd and going indoors, the disciples ask Jesus what he meant. Jesus begins by expanding on his public comment: “The food you put into your mouth… doesn’t go into your heart, but into your stomach and then out of your body” (Mark 7:18-19).
Here Jesus distinguishes between the external value system of social and religious laws on cleanliness, and the internal values in our hearts—the ones God’s really interested in.
This passage is a brilliant example of how Jesus has one level of teaching for the crowd and another for his disciples. From a simple observation on ritual dogma, Jesus suddenly gives a sharp delineation of what separates humanity from God.
“What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness” (Mark 7:20-22).
7 deadly sins
That’s quite a catalogue. In it, we see the foundations of what the Desert Fathers later enumerated as the 7 deadly sins: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.
My research into emotional mechanics has taught me that nothing is ever random. If that’s the case, there must be a clear, cogent reason why the 7 deadly sins are the 7 deadly sins. Why there’s 7 of them, not 6 or 8 ½. And why they are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth, and not any other socially undesirable behaviours.
As I describe on the ROCI21 home page, long-term drought around 6,000 years ago caused desertification and famine in the equatorial belt from the Sahara through the Middle East, Arabia and into central Asia. Geographer James DeMeo provides ample evidence of this in his ground-breaking book Saharasia.
Fear of the encroaching desert litters the Old Testament.
“The Lord will make the sky overhead seem like a bronze roof that keeps out the rain, and the ground under your feet will become as hard as iron. Your crops will be scorched by the hot east wind or ruined by mildew. He will send dust and sandstorms instead of rain, and you will be wiped out” (Deuteronomy 28:21-24).
Not only the geography changed. The ever-expanding desert and the need to fight for dwindling food and water sources turned peaceful hunter-gatherer communities into nomadic warrior tribes. DeMeo writes that, “those who were capable of the greatest violence would soon dominate remaining water and food resources.”
This long-term famine profoundly unbalanced the human psyche. Masculine aspects (strength, intellect) were amplified by the all-consuming quest for food, while feminine aspects (emotions, sexuality) were denied, denigrated and repressed to minimize emotional pain.
Over the course of time, this new psychology—an imbalance of homeostasis—became embedded in human childrearing. “The ‘good’ child would be increasingly defined in terms of… the absence of emotion or feeling.” (James DeMeo, Saharasia)
This dramatic shift, from a fertile world that met all human needs to an arid desert (both physically and emotionally) is what we know as The Fall: the story of Adam, Eve, the apple and the snake.
7 sins = 7 chakras
The upshot of The Fall was an inability to express emotional needs healthily, which manifested in the 7 deadly sins.
The easiest way to understand this is through their correspondence with the 7 chakras of eastern philosophy—the 7 energy centres between the base of the spine and the crown of our heads. Put simply, when natural human emotional expression gets distorted, the 7 deadly sins occur:
- Root chakra (sex, regeneration)—its sin is lust
- Sacral/belly (food, resources)—gluttony
- Solar plexus (will, money)—greed
- Heart (love of life)—sloth
- Throat (communication)—wrath
- Brow/‘third eye’ (vision)—envy
- Crown (spirituality)—pride
I’m not the first to make this association, and there’s disagreement over which way around wrath and sloth are. I’ve gone with wrath at the throat as it feels like an inhibition of healthy communication.
In light of the psychological disturbances caused by The Fall, the 7 deadly sins make complete sense. If you live in an environment of ongoing famine, you will exhibit gluttony. Denigrate and repress sexuality, and lust happens. It’s just your psyche trying to achieve balance by over-compensating for an absence.
Experiments in epigenetic inheritance with rats show that behaviours such as gluttony are transmitted from one generation to another, even when a plentiful food source is restored. The trauma is genetically embedded and replicates from one generation to the next—until it’s healed. It’s only now that we’re starting to understand the mechanics of trauma.
Which brings us back to Mark 7:20.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus told his disciples that what separated them from God was the fact that they were running on the psychological programming of The Fall. We’re still running on it today—and we’re still separated from God.
In Mark 7:20, Jesus isn’t delivering a moral or spiritual teaching. He’s telling us very bluntly that we need to heal from The Fall. It’s that simple.