On March 20, 1925, an Anglican priest named Frederick Lewis Donaldson preached a sermon centering around what he called the “7 Deadly Social Evils.” Through the help of what he called a “fair friend,” Mohandas Gandhi had the opportunity to reprint the list in his weekly newspaper. A few weeks before the Mahatma’s assassination, he gave a handwritten copy of the list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi. It was Arun Gandhi that brought the list to the world, publishing it after his grandfather’s death under the heading “Seven Blunders of the World.”
It is noteworthy that the need for what James 1:27 calls “pure and undefiled religion” transcends religious traditions. People of different ethnicities, geographies and economic backgrounds can see the problems central to human society, much of which are perpetrated in the name of religion.
The list is as follows:
Wealth without work.
The value of labor has been disparaged greatly within my lifetime. Many Americans have the opportunity to retire with enough savings to provide for decades of comfortable living; in fact, most Americans see it as a privilege to which they are entitled. Add to that the ever-increasing number of opportunities to “get rich quick” — professional sports, game shows, the lottery and other forms of gambling, reality television shows, etc. — and you find a culture steeped in the concept of massive wealth with little of what would traditionally be termed “work.” As a result, work has become merely a means to an end — something to be avoided whenever possible.
The Bible, however, describes work as a part of our existence as humans that is as old as creation — older than the fall, in fact (Genesis 2:15). Work is seen as a lifelong pursuit (John 9:4). It provides purpose and even joy to everyday life under God’s sun (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20). Work is to be embraced and welcomed, not avoided. And the idea of using the wealth God has allowed us to accumulate as an excuse to avoid being productive members of society — that is shameful (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Pleasure without conscience.
“If it feels good, do it.” This has been the mantra of many if not most Americans for my entire life. But the hedonism of the 1960s and 1970s is not a new concept. Solomon experimented with it extensively and found it to be “futility” and “madness” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2). In fact, pleasure frequently comes at the expense of others — the same neighbors we are to be loving as ourselves (Galatians 5:14).
The conscience is God’s moral barometer. Properly aligned by His instructions, it gives us warnings when we stray too close to moral and spiritual danger. It worked for Cain, although he ignored it (Genesis 4:6). It worked for Jonah, although he ran from it (Jonah 4:1-2). It took the form of “goads” in the life of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 26:14), and after his Damascus road experience he eventually succumbed to them. We need no encouragement to pursue pleasure; the benefits of pleasure are self-evident, like the allure of the adulteress (Proverbs 5:3-4). We need help to stay on the narrow pathway. God has given it to us.
Since our neighbors have already predetermined to take the broad path instead, they find it advantageous to hush the voice of conscience as abruptly and completely as possible. They drink and medicate it out of their own hearts, and they work to silence those who would attempt to get them to see the error of their ways. Simply living life for the short-term satisfaction it provides is what separated mankind from God in the first place; continuing to do so will have eternal and irrevocable consequences.
Knowledge without character.
We can excuse a preacher “borrowing” from the Bible, but it must be noted that this one is stripped straight from 1 Corinthians 8:1 ‘“Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” Paul returns to this principle later, saying even spiritual gifts are worthless in the absence of brotherly love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). If in all our learning we neglect the greatest principle of all — “fear God, and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) — we have rejected true wisdom. After all, what truly wise man would choose to abandon God (Psalm 14:1).
Commerce without morality.
Making money is fine. Money is a moral neutral, capable of serving good causes and evil causes alike. Those inordinately blessed in the world’s goods are to serve God and their fellow man with them (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Indeed, our use of the world’s goods is a quick but accurate assessment of our ability to serve God in this life, having direct implications on eternity (Luke 16:10-12).
The love of money, on the other hand, is “a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). It brings out the worst in our character. “’Bad, bad,’ says the buyer, but when he goes his way, then he boasts” (Proverbs 20:14). A culture devoted to economic prosperity that is bereft of a moral core is destined to eat itself alive.
Science without humanity.
This statement, remember, was first written and spoken in the height of the euthanasia movement. The “enlightened” position, we were told by sociologists as famous and diverse as George Bernard Shaw and Margaret Sanger, was to marginalize and even eliminate those aspects of human society that were judged not to benefit the whole. From a purely scientific perspective, that position can be rationalized. But most of us retain enough of God’s morality to be horrified by this notion. We do not love our neighbor by killing him. We do not use the less fortunate to further “the cause of learning” simply because we can get away with it. “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:14).
Religion without sacrifice.
Finally, we get some preacher talk that actually sounds like preacher talk! Indeed, the whole point of serving God is that we do something that ordinarily, left to ourselves, we would not have done. David understood, saying in 2 Samuel 24:24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” What do we think a “sacrifice” is, anyway?
The latest “Bachelorette” (so I am told) has a different point of view. Explaining to one of her suitors why she does not see Christianity as being in conflict with profligate sexual activity with near-strangers, she said, “I can sin all I want, and Jesus loves me.” But then, that is why I do not consult reality TV stars in matters of the spirit. Turns out, empowering us to “sin the more that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1-2) is not why Jesus died on the cross.
Politics without principle.
We (and I mean humans, not Americans) distrust politicians because we believe most of them are out for themselves, not us. If they will lie to get elected, they will lie to stay elected. What point is there in voting for someone who talks like me if I have no confidence he will consistently act according to those principles?
Solomon suggests tempering our expectation of “reform” from on high (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9). The closer the politician is to “the land” (i.e., a normal existence), the more likely he is to act on behalf of the common folk. It’s the political equivalent of, “I’d rather watch a sermon than hear one any day.”