Is Sloth Still a Deadly Sin?

 

Sloth three-toedThis New Year’s morning, I awoke full of good intentions. Rather than committing to the usual litany of resolutions I’ll never keep, I decided to focus on just one goal: I vow to write at least 500 words per day, which comes out to 3,500 words per week. If I don’t reach 500 words one day, I’ll make it up the next day, or the one after that. I’ll cut myself some slack and make the weekly total 3,333. That’s the same goal I set for my GoFundMe* campaign, where I’m hoping to raise $3,333.

At that rate, I’ll reach 173,316 words by next New Year’s Day. That’s the equivalent of two good-sized novels, maybe the next two books in my vampire soap opera series. But I won’t limit myself to fiction. This blog post will count toward today’s total. So will journaling or writing poetry – anything that keeps my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Using the mouse won’t count. No more frittering away the hours with Facebook or FreeCell. (That’s worth a resolution in its own right, but it’s one I know I won’t be able to keep, so I’m not making it.)

Can I actually do this? Sounds reasonable, right? I can easily turn out 500 words in an hour or two, so what’s stopping

Sloth (detail) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Sloth (detail) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

me? In a word, SLOTH. Not the cute three-toed kind shown above, but the Deadly Sin variety. Of all the Seven Deadly Sins, sloth is by far my biggest challenge. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins in Christian moral tradition, particularly within Catholicism, referring to laziness. Sloth is defined as spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive. It can also be either an outright refusal or merely a carelessness in the performance of one’s obligations, especially spiritual, moral or legal obligations. Sloth can also indicate a wasting due to lack of use, concerning a person, place, thing, skill, or intangible ideal that would require maintenance, refinement, or support to continue to exist.

Back in the day, those guilty of sloth were sentenced to Hell, and in particular to a pit full of snakes. But these days, those of us who don’t fear hellfire and damnation have a hard time taking sloth all that seriously. Googling the subject, I found a brilliant essay Thomas Pynchon wrote for the New York Times in 1993. Here’s a sample:

Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. . . . there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.

Sloth by Hieronymous Bosch

Sloth by Hieronymous Bosch

Reading Pynchon’s essay, I find I’m guilty of another of the Deadly Sins: Envy. He’s so creative, so hilarious, that I could never come remotely close to his level. This in turn engenders pessimism and an almost irresistible urge to play FreeCell or check my email. Or it could give rise to Gluttony, another of the Deadlies, but I’m still feeling bloated from overeating at Dan Wilcox’s  New Year’s Day open house, so the thought of more food is distasteful.

In case your memory needs jogging, the other four Deadly Sins are Wrath, Greed, Pride and Lust. It’s curious that drunkenness doesn’t make the cut – probably Thomas Aquinas and the other theologians were too fond of their alcoholic libations. But the fear of spending an eternity in hell for committing one of the shameful seven no doubt helped keep good Christians in line so that the social order didn’t descend into total mayhem and anarchy. Later, as Pynchon points out, the fear was harnessed in the interests of motivating the labor force that drove industrial productivity.

Today, thanks to our vastly extended life spans, most people in our country have the luxury of enjoying at least a decade or two of retirement, with the leisure time to pursue our own interests  – or to kick back and do absolutely nothing. In these bonus decades, can sloth still be considered a sin? Haven’t we earned the right to be lazy? Maybe, but if so, why do I suffer such pangs of guilt and self-loathing when I spend an afternoon immersed in reading a novel or an evening lounging in bed watching multiple episodes of the latest series on Netflix?

I could ramble on in this vein, but it’s almost midnight and I’ve exceeded my 500 words, so I’ll cease and desist. How about you? Is sloth a problem in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

*My GoFundMe campaign was on hold during the holidays, but I’m relaunching it as of today, hoping to raise money to pay for help with cover design and illustration for Hope Dawns Eternal and my other novels. To learn more, visit www.hopedawnseternal.net.

Boschsevendeadlysins

 

 

 

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