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Can Sin Be Mapped?

Hot spots for the seven deadly sins — lust, wrath, envy, sloth, lust, greed, gluttony and pride — overlap much of the Bible Belt. Mississippi is lustful. Georgia is wrathful. North Carolina is envious. South Carolina is prideful. But gluttony flares up in only a few spots in Texas and Virginia. And greed is almost non-existent.

 

Baptists and other Christians now know where we can safely go to avoid certain sins, thanks to the resourceful research of Kansas State University geographers, who used census data to create a map of sin.

 

Of course, their definition of each of the seven deadly sins rightly deserves some criticism. Wrath is more than violent crimes. Sloth is more than the expenditure of entertainment and recreation dollars. Lust is certainly more than sexually transmitted diseases. Greed transcends the comparative analysis of the relationship between wealth and poverty. Gluttony is more than fast-food restaurants. Envy is more than theft. Pride can certainly be seen as an aggregate of the other six sins, although pride is much more than that.

 

When the Tennessean called recently, I said that sloth was more than laziness and better understood as moral indifference. That is, sloth is the sin of omission. Sloth is what happens when we do nothing when we know what we ought to do. Inaction on global warming, Darfur and Tennessee’s proposed budget cuts that affect those with developmental disabilities were my examples of sloth.

 

What I didn’t know at the time is that Forbes magazine had done a similar geography of sin. Forbes identified the same seven deadly sins with different definitions, categories for measurement and locations. Forbes looked at American cities.

 

Condom use rather than sexually transmitted disease was the defining measurement for lust. Murders measured wrath or anger. Theft defined jealousy or envy. Obesity gauged gluttony. Lack of exercise and too much TV watching determined sloth. The extent of plastic surgery quantified vanity or pride.

 

Forbes identified wealth as the measurement for greed, although the magazine did so after much reluctance. It reminded its readers, “Greed gets a bad rap.” The article bragged that the wealthy “create millions of jobs,” support the arts and give away lots of money.

 

Nevertheless, Forbes and the Kansas State geographers are using theological tools — the seven deadly sins — to evaluate the public square. That’s a good thing. We need more public theologizing.

 

We also need more theologizing in the local church — not Bible thumping and self-righteous moralizing, but thinking theologically.

 

For example, can sin be mapped? Does sin have geography?

 

After the Tennessean article appeared, I e-mailed the religion editor confessing that I wish I would have underscored the universality of sin in my comments to him.

 

The biblical witness is clear about the universality of sin:

  • “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
  • “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
  • “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt” (Jeremiah 17:9).
  • “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

 

But what does the Bible say about the geography of sin?

 

The sin of pride was located at Babel, for example. The sin of lust was located at Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

The latter biblical story in Genesis has been interpreted consistently as a condemnation of homosexual practice, an interpretation that liberal clergy furiously try to revise in order to support their pre-existing agenda. At the same time, the reference to Sodom in Ezekiel underscores the sin of pride and inhospitality, a note that conservative clergy uniformly ignore in no small measure due to their attitude of exclusion and their dismissal of the moral mandate to do social justice.

 

While biblical texts recorded that the Lord rained fire and brimstone onto Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying the wicked, texts also warned that a worse fate awaits the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida for their lack of repentance.

 

Is non-repentance worse than homosexual practice or inhospitality?

 

What may one conclude about the Bible’s geography of sin? Can sin be mapped? If so, how do people of faith, sinners themselves, map sin?

 

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.