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Gluttony, other deadly sins are victims of progress

Here's something French we Americans can get behind: A move to have gluttony dropped from the list of Seven Deadly Sins.

According to The New York Times, a group of French chefs and gastronomes — people who really, really like food — have petitioned Pope John Paul II to remove gluttony from the traditional list of seven moral failings and impediments to spiritual progress.

The list of sins is over 17 centuries old, but they were codified by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, so perhaps the Vatican has hereditary rights to lop off a sin or two if it likes. In the United States, the appropriate official is probably Attorney General and morality arbiter John Ashcroft.

Long ago in France and the United States, gluttony was indeed a sin because it was a safe bet many of your neighbors were malnourished, if not actually starving. But that is not the case today; to the contrary.

The reason Americans should back the French campaign is that studies show conclusively — and there's no way to put this politely — that we are becoming a nation of fat people, both grown-ups and kids. It is bad enough walking around encased in blubber without being encased in sin.

And while we're at it, maybe we should also get rid of the remaining Six Deadly Sins — pride, envy, lust, anger, greed and sloth. Rather than sins, they have become victims — even impediments — of what we like to call modern progress.

How can pride be a sin in a country where cars bear bumper stickers saying, "My Child Is an Honor Student at Millard Fillmore Elementary School"? U.S. foreign policy successes and international sports victories are spoken of as "restoring our national pride." Today's social sin is low self-esteem.

If no longer a sin, anger is an unpleasant character trait, but it sells. Where would lowbrow TV be without anger? The subject of Jerry Springer's show Wednesday was "Angry Women Face Off!" And where would right-wing talk be without anger? Do you want to be the one to tell Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly that they're sinners? We thought not.

Similarly, without lust and sexual innuendo you can pretty much forget about prime-time TV, not to mention Hollywood. Without lust there would certainly be no "Bachelor," "Survivor," "Joe Millionaire" or "Married by America." There's even a show about thwarted lust, "Will & Grace."

Sloth is hard to defend as a sin in a country where the couch potato is a national icon. Besides, we don't call it "sloth" anymore. We call it "leisure."

If the economy is going to pick up, we're going to need even more greed and envy, the driving forces of capitalism and the financial markets. A nation willing to settle for less will get less. Samuel Gompers once summarized the aspiration of working people in a single word, "More." It made our economy the greatest in the world. Don't think of greed and envy as sin; think of them as motivation.

The one drawback to eliminating the Seven Deadly Sins is that it might also eliminate a thriving little trade on the Internet devoted to selling Seven Deadly Sins books, woodcarvings, mugs, mouse pads, T-shirts and what one retailer described as "other branded crap." But as President Bush says of the dislocation caused by his free trade agreements, think of the greater good — or maybe the lesser sinfulness.

Contact Dale McFeatters at or online