The Seven Deadly Poisons
by: Douglas Giddens
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The Seven Deadly Poisons
By Rev. Douglas Giddens, New Hampshire, USA
We are humans, the dominant species on this planet. We have built and toppled empires; we have harnessed the power of the atom; we have discovered secrets of the universe. We are an extraordinary race, destined for greatness.
Although we are all different and possess different forms of greatness, each of us, as humans, has greatness within us. Some of us are leaders, others conquerors; some are inventers, others builders; some are explorers, others thinkers. It is this variety and uniqueness of each individual that gives our race its exceptionalism and allows each of us to be great.
Unfortunately, few of us reach our full potential. We face obstacles in life, most of which can be attributed to at least one of the Seven Deadly Poisons: fear, guilt, willful ignorance, regret, faith, sloth, and excess. These poisons are what hold us back from achieving our goals. They are what wither and kill our hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
It is only in overcoming these poisons and conquering the obstacles that are thrown into our paths that we can reach our full potential, that we can bring our race to its next level, and that we can know our own greatness.
Fear is debilitating. It clouds our reason. Fear is what makes us sit down when we should stand up, remain silent when we should protest.
Religion is often born of fear. One’s inability to accept life on its own terms drives him to search for supernatural help to face each day. One’s fear of death compels him to seek out metaphysical answers to unanswerable questions.
Further, when one feels fear, he often, though inexplicably, calls on a higher power for help, like a child clinging to his mother’s leg. When he finds relief from this fearful situation, he attributes this relief to be his salvation by the god called upon, when in reality, his deliverance can always be explained without divine intervention.
People’s natural, but irrational fear of non-existence compels them to believe in something that does not likely exist: an eternity in heaven or hell. Fear of hell then compels them to adhere to unreasonable religious strictures. Thus, fear gives way to fear, feeding on itself, a self-perpetuating cycle that relies not on actions founded on reason, but on mindless reactions born of desperation.
Fear makes cowards of men, and cowards seek out and cling to something stronger than themselves. If we do not give fear a foothold, we do not need the crutch of religion. We can face life – and death – on its own terms
When we hold onto guilt, it is a poison as destructive as a crack rock. It eats at us from inside. Guilt is bondage; it makes us slaves to our past. It saps our confidence and makes us doubt our decisions in the present and future. Only by recognizing it for the poison that it is, and refusing it a hold on us, can we be free.
In an attempt to be free of guilt, but lacking the courage to face it, many look for forgiveness from a god. This is a tragic substitute for two reasons. First, while offering them forgiveness and freedom from their guilt, this god demands that they adhere to an impossible standard of religious behavior, which is, in all manners, contrary to human nature. Each thought or action that is contrary to their religious dogma is a sin for which they must feel guilty and grovel for forgiveness: a vicious cyclical trap. Thus, what was intended to be an escape from guilt actually places them under a far greater burden of guilt.
Second, by looking to a supernatural being for immediate absolution, they deny themselves the journey of reflection and acceptance. They tell themselves: “I can’t dwell on this; God has forgiven me. Now I need to give it to him and just let go.”
Only by reflecting on our behavior, accepting our mistakes, and forgiving ourselves, can we truly break its hold on us and move past it. Forgiveness from a supernatural being is meaningless; it is forgiveness from ourselves that is important.
Knowledge is the enemy of faith, a fact that is acknowledged by many religions. Zeus punished the Titan Prometheus for giving man the knowledge of fire. The Allfather Odin lost an eye in exchange for the knowledge of runes, a written language. Adam and Eve lost immortality and were cast out of Eden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
Religious institutions, too, recognize the power of knowledge and go to great pains to suppress it. For a layman to own a Bible during the Middle Ages was punishable by death. For an Islamic woman to learn to read is to risk disfigurement or death. The lists go on; the one certainty is that knowledge is power and ignorance is slavery.
There are two kinds of ignorance. One is simply a lack of knowledge and is common to all men. No one man knows everything and is, therefore, ignorant of that which he has not learned.
The other, however, is willful ignorance, a refusal to learn something for fear that it might shake the foundations of one’s faith or disprove a desirable belief. Willful ignorance is stubbornly holding onto an idea or belief that one would have to face as untrue with a little effort or education. A refusal to toss anything into the air and denying that gravity exists relies entirely on willful ignorance, as does insisting on a geocentric universe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, simply because the church says so.
Willful ignorance requires us to suspend our reason, that very thing that distinguishes us from the rest of the animals. Therefore, by ignoring truth, to hold onto our fantasy, we voluntarily place ourselves on a level with all other beasts of the earth.
If we were created by a Supreme Being, that Being gave us the ability to think, to observe the world around us, and to draw conclusions: to reason. To reject that gift in favor of blind faith would be to spit in the face of that creator.
Conversely, if we evolved on our own or came to be what we are without the aid of a supreme being, voluntarily rejecting reason for faith in one superstition or another is to reject our own human supremacy and willfully put ourselves on par with the rest of the world’s animals.
Regret is a trap. It requires us to dwell on the past instead of looking to the future. Regret prevents us from moving on and growing as people.
Two of the most dangerous words we can utter are: if only… If only I hadn’t let my daughter travel the country alone. If only I hadn’t run that stop sign. Of course, many times it isn’t that one pivotal moment; it’s more mundane. If only I had been a better husband. If only I had spent more time with my kids.
The lists go on. Some people live their whole lives dwelling on their failures, unable to live in the present or make a future. We must accept that we are human and that we have made mistakes. We must recognize the truth with Lady Macbeth: “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done.” Of course, Lady Macbeth didn’t really handle her regret very well. It ate at her until she lost her mind: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say.” She then went on to kill herself.
Lady Macbeth is only one example; others may crawl into a bottle or stick a needle in their arms in an effort to hide from their regrets, while yet others, instead of self-medicating, simply wallow in their own self-pity and misery.
Simon Bolivar said, “Judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” Humans are not perfect; that we will make mistakes is inevitable. What is not inevitable is how we will choose to handle our errors. We can dwell on them and live a life of regret, trapped in the past, or we can face our mistakes and accept that, although we are unable to change what we have done, we can learn from the past and make better decisions in the future. Only in this way can we free ourselves from the bonds of regret and reach our full potential.
According to the Bible: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11: 1, KJV) This is an apt definition and clearly demonstrates why faith is such a dangerous poison.
The first clause is essentially self-actualization: if you wish for or hope for something hard enough, you can make it come true. The same principle is used in nearly every religion, whether the faithful rely on prayer or spell-casting, they must believe it will come true. This is dangerous because it requires us to depend on a superstitious force for what we need or want instead of relying on ourselves and striving for success.
If we get it, we are to thank a god instead of being proud of our own accomplishment; if we don’t get it, we are to accept that a god lovingly refused our desire because it knows best and we just have to trust it. Thus there is no reflection, no trying to figure out what action we could have taken to have succeeded. The principle of the first clause is: if you want something, pray or hope really hard, but don’t actively do anything because, ultimately, it’s up to a god and out of your control.
The second clause is a contradiction that reminds me of Orwellian double-think: despite all of your senses telling you that something isn’t there, you are to believe that it is. This concept is contrary to all reason. If something exists, there must be some evidence to support it. Without any evidence, it is irrational to depend on one’s own belief or faith as evidence of something’s existence.
Faith requires us to suspend our reason, to believe in something based solely on our own desire that it be true. This is not how the real world works. With a good education and a lot of hard work, we can earn what we want. With a lot of prayer and hope, the faithful will receive all that they have earned and will be left wanting.
Sloth is thought of as laziness, which many people think of as sleeping in until noon. Sloth, however, is more than that; it consists of laziness, procrastination, and indecision.
Laziness is not a matter of sleeping late, but of what one does with the hours one is awake. It is said that, Albert Einstein slept eleven hours a day, but he accomplished more with the other thirteen hours than most people do with sixteen or eighteen.
Laziness is a lack of forward movement. It consists not of when or for how long one is awake, but what one can accomplish during those wakeful hours. Just because one is awake and active does not mean one is productive or is not lazy; one can be very active, yet never accomplish anything. Constant half-hearted attempts toward vague ideas, while keeping one busy, will never achieve anything. It is only with concerted effort toward a determined goal that we overcome laziness.
Procrastination is putting off until later what could be done now. One can never work toward a goal without some sort of timetable, and no timetable can be kept if one fails to actively move things forward. If, each day, one decides to put off taking out the trash until tomorrow, the trash will not be taken out. The trashcan will disappear under an insurmountable pile of waste, and the waste will fester and invite maggots.
The same is true with any goal. If it is put off over and over, it seems harder and harder to achieve until it eventually disappears under the weight we give it, or under the pile of other things we have to do, and finally the goal rots and dies.
Indecision is an unwillingness to commit to a determined course of action. One cannot achieve a goal if one refuses to make decisions. When one vacillates and refuses to follow a determined course of action, forward momentum stalls, and it’s that much harder to get moving again. As any physics professor (or any of us who has pushed a car) can explain, it’s always hardest to get an object moving; once it’s moving, it’s much easier to keep it moving. Indecision halts momentum so that progress toward a goal must be begun anew.
We are bound to make mistakes and suffer setbacks. We cannot allow making a wrong decision to leave us indecisive in the future. A wrong decision may slow our momentum but will rarely bring it to the same grinding halt as indecision.
There is a difference between indecision and taking some time to consider one’s options. There are times when one must step back, collect information, and decide the best course of action; this is not indecision, it is prudence. Making reckless, uninformed decision can be as detrimental to the success of one’s goals as indecision. Consideration only becomes indecision if, after one has all the available information, one refuses to make a timely decision.
Sloth, therefore, is inactivity. Whether due to laziness, procrastination, or indecision, it is a lack of movement in pursuit of one’s goals. Laziness is especially dangerous because it often gives way to depression and self-destructive behavior.
While most everything is good in moderation, anything taken to excess becomes dangerous and destructive. A cigarette a day has many health benefits, three packs a day is believed to cause cancer. A glass of wine with dinner is good for the body, a bottle of wine is bad for the body and for most aspects of one’s life. Most illegalnarcotics were first prescribed as medicines; abuse of these drugs, however, is destructive.
As with these few examples, an excess of most anything becomes a deadly poison. This was recognized centuries ago by the author of the seven deadly sins, each of which is an excess of its respective emotion.
Greed is not just wanting money. Everyone wants money. Greed is a single-minded and selfish desire for the accumulation of wealth, power, or other material gain.
Gluttony is an excess of eating, usually unhealthy food.
Envy is an excessive desire for another’s possessions. To look upon the profits of another’s hard work with appreciation and endeavor to earn similar possessions oneself is healthy and to be encouraged, but to envy another’s possessions, to want to take them without earning them or to feel bitter toward another because he has earned what you have not is destructive.
Anger can be positive and cathartic, but wrath is anger taken to the next level. It is uncontrolled and dangerous.
Pride is more than being proud of one’s accomplishments. Being proud of our achievements is good; it builds our confidence and encourages us to work hard toward new and greater goals. Pride, or more accurately, vanity, is an excess of pride or unearned pride.
Lust is more than the admiration of another’s body or the momentary sexual fantasy, which is common to, and healthy for, maturing or mature adults of both sexes. Lust is sexual desire taken to obsession. Instead of a fleeting fantasy, one becomes consumed by sexual hunger for another. Lust is unhealthy and dangerous, not only for the one so consumed, but also for the object of his or her desire.
Nearly every virtue, taken to excess, becomes vice. Excess cannot be satisfied – getting more leads to wanting more – but excess can be rejected. Only in this way, by taking the path of moderation, can we find balance, happiness, and purpose in our lives.
Each one of us has within us that spark of greatness, a greatness that is too often smothered and snuffed out. Only by recognizing the Seven Deadly Poisons and rejecting them, only by denying them a foothold in our lives, can we fan that spark into a fire, and fuel that fire into an inferno of greatness. Only then can we leave our mark on history and be, ourselves, deserving of nothing short of godhood.
3. Bolivar, Simon. Simon Bolivar. BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2014. 11 February 2014.
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