Psychologist Advocates Sin

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Posted on February 14, 2012

Is sin a scientific subject?  Or is a scientist sinning who advocates sinning?  One psychologist has written a book about the joy of sin.  That sin brings temporary pleasure is not news, but claiming that sin is beneficial for overall health and well-being is a stretch.  Should a so-called “scientific” website promote such ideas uncritically?

In time for lustful thoughts on Valentine’s Day, Medical Xpress promoted a new sin book by Michael Laham (psychologist at the University of Melbourne).  The title surely attracts attention: The Joy of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (And Why They Are So Good For You).  Laham says go ahead and indulge: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, pride – all the vices the Good Book warns us about – are not only pleasurable but beneficial.

Dr Laham said that when you take a look at the evidence, the seven deadly sins can really serve us quite well despite being told for centuries they are bad for us.

This is great news for Australians as a recent BBC poll deemed Australia the most sinful country on earth,” he said.

So research now shows that it’s ok to indulge in a bit of Lust this Valentine’s Day and you’ll be better off for it. In fact, indulge in all seven deadly sins and you might just be a little smarter, happier and more successful.

Medical Xpress offered no contrary opinions.  On the contrary, it opened its article by praising the “virtues of living a sinful life” and headlined, in bold letters, “Lust makes you smarter and evidence that seven deadly sins are good for you.

Jamie Condiffe at New Scientist was only halfway impressed, thinking that Laham was trying to shoehorn evidence from “experimental psychology” to fit his edgy title.

Don’t give this book to the military.  Actually, it might be a smart tactical move to airdrop copies of The Joy of Sin on the military of the enemy.  Let them become slothful gluttons so that they become easy targets.  Students, why study?  Get lazy and indulge your lustful desires; earn a B.S. (Bad Sin) the easy way.  Parents, let your kids eat all the sugar and junk they want.  Be angry and sin not not.  Hate your neighbor as your self wants to.  Tell everybody how great you are.  Appoint yourself Vice President (president of vice).  Why stop at the “seven deadly sins”?   Break the Ten Commandments while you’re at it, and the laws of the land.  Make the world a better place –land yourself in jail.

Condiffe is correct; Laham is just trying to sell books with his provocative title.  The main flaw in his reasoning is confusing categories.  Some of the examples he gives are misleading.  For instance, napping when tired is beneficial, but that’s not sloth.  Being passionate in a debate or negotiation might help you win, but that’s not the sinful kind of anger (some anger is righteous, like righteous anger).  Having a piece of cake once in awhile is not gluttony.  Sexual attraction to your spouse is not lust.  Laham confuses naturally normal or good things with their perversions: it’s not a sin to eat, but to overeat; it’s not a sin to rest, but to turn rest into laziness.  Sexual desire is not lust until it is misdirected.  If Laham really practiced what he preached, his advice would implode.  If he had been slothful, he would not have finished writing his book.  If he were a glutton, he would be too out of shape to keep his job.  If he lusted after his neighbor’s wife, he would be too preoccupied with a bitter divorce to write nonsense.

Bottom line: nonsense does not deserve to be anointed with the label of science.  Thank goodness New Scientist was at least halfway critical.  If Medical Xpress (a.k.a. PhysOrg) was doing its job, it wouldn’t parrot university press releases uncritically – as if university P.R. departments should put out nonsense in the first place.  Aussies speak up: is your country more sinful than North Korea?

Making vice virtuous makes virtue vicious.  The Good Book does not deny that sin is pleasurable; it just points out that the pleasure is passing and short-sighted (Hebrews 11:23–26).   Eating cake every day feels pleasurable till you get heart disease.  Telling your boss off feels wonderful till you find yourself on the street out of a job.  Sleeping around is filled with bodily thrills till you get venereal disease or have to deal with unplanned pregnancy.  Laham needs to hear a strong sermon and repent on his knees before a holy God, who warned,“the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

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