I admit it…I’ve been itching to write another “dumb professor” article for quite a while. But I have a problem to confess. As a conscientious collector of dumb professor arguments, I have very high standards for sheer stupidity. Oh, there is no end to the stupid things professors will say against the Christian faith, and I could pick one every day like picking corn in an Indiana summer field, saying things like “Mabel, look’ee here, this corn kernel reminds me of a Richard Dawkins’ argument…now watch me eat it, like I’ll eat his ugly face” – I’m bold as brass about corn kernel metaphors – but for this blog I only want the pinnacle of stupidity. I mean Bill Clinton’s moral compass meets George W. Bush’s brain stupid. I want to find a dumb professor argument so dumb that you scream with agony as you read about it. I’m funny that way.
And, just as I was struggling to find the dumbest of the dumb professor arguments, the Heavens opened up and dropped it into my lap while I was reading a Social Psychology listserv. (This is not a common occurrence while reading a Social Psychology listserv; if you’re looking for some Heavens-Opening kinds of experiences, I’d suggest rather the book of John. Still, God has a sense of humor and will sometimes surprise you!) It is not possible to be more stupid than the argument you are about to read. My only regret is wasting the best arguing day of my life when I am forty: For I’m quite sure life will never provide something as entertaining as this again, argument-wise.
And now, for your pleasure, I present to you Simon Laham’s book “The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You).” In this book, he argues that the seven deadly sins long discussed by Christians as bad are actually good. Gluttony? Get some Cheetos, my friend, and find a couch…and upgrade your pant size. Pride? Go ahead and feel superior to others, it’ll make you a better person. And what’s a little anger among friends? Envy? Are you kidding? Envy’s all the rage for the truly morally superior. Sloth? Heavens to Betsy, forget all this “work ethic” stuff you’ve been hearing about. Greed? Come on, anyone knows that greed is just the honest pursuit of happiness, right? It’s practically enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as a virtue! Think of the invisible hand, for crying out loud?
And so the American dream lives on. The dream that says you can lose weight by eating fattening foods; the dream that says you can make money by throwing it down a hole in Las Vegas; the dream that says you can sit around all day playing video games and have a fulfilling life, accomplishing many good things; the dream that says you can assuage your conscience by avoiding it; the dream that says you can get a better job by sleeping in everyday, that those crops will reap themselves; yes, the people who brought you Coca Cola and Christmas Greed have finally reached the pinnacle of stupidity: You can be a good person by being a bad person! We’ve progressed beyond simply hoping our sin doesn’t matter (the old slogan: “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”) to hoping our sin is actually the path to goodness (the new slogan: “what happens in Vegas leads to Heaven”).
Only, of course, it isn’t just the American dream – it’s the human dream. Come on, admit it: There is a part of all of us that would like to believe Laham’s book. I’d certainly like to. Wouldn’t it be grand? We can be a perfectly good person by giving in to our bad desires. By simply doing whatever we want whenever we want to do it, we can make the world a better place.
Christianity says that this sort of book will be appealing to us. It says that we’ll want to believe we can go our own way and be both happy and good. Way back in the third chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and it “looked good” to them.
Problem: It isn’t. At least, not in the long term. I’m not going to offer a point-by-point rebuttal here of Laham’s arguments (though it’s tempting to do so). Instead, I’m going to tackle the larger picture he is painting with very broad brushstrokes. What I eventually will argue is that (a) social psychological research is more likely to suggest that resisting the seven deadly sins makes you happy in the long term, and (b) even if it didn’t, no one actually wants to live in a world where those sins are glorified.
But this blog post is already getting kinda bloated, so I’ll save those arguments for next week. Stay tuned!