Columnist on spiritual apathy as the eighth deadly sin • Jennifer Smith, Marriage and Family Therapist
Recently, I read an article about spiritual apathy. It was written by Abbot Christopher Jamison and was adapted from his book, Finding Happiness. Jamison made some thought provoking points about the disconnect between our actions and our motivations about our actions. He describes apathy as the eighth deadly sin. The following is his description of spiritual apathy.
“The Seven Deadly sins, pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony and lust are derived from the Eight Thoughts of the monk John Cassian. Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century removed one vice, acedia, a Greek word which can be translated as spiritual apathy. When this word disappeared from ordinary people’s vocabulary, it deprived Western culture of the ability to name and important feature of the spiritual life, namely, loss of enthusiasm for the spiritual life itself.”
“The purpose of such lists, like the seven deadly sins or eight thoughts is to provide a framework within which people can develop self-awareness. Self-awareness is different from introspection. Introspection is only looking at me, whereas self-awareness involves considering how I act with the world around me. Self-awareness is paying attention to how I relate with people and things. It involves understanding how one’s outlook affects the way one sees the world and how it affects the world itself.”
The conclusion drawn here is that a lack of self-awareness leads to apathy, which is simply not caring. When we do not consider the condition of our core, or our soul, we become complacent and careless. When our words and actions match our belief system, we exhibit care for those around us in significant and life-changing ways.
One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This is so very true about both good and bad feelings. I can remember being in a store once, trying to exchange an item and a clerk being rude to me. In fact, she looked past me in line and asked if she could help the woman behind me. I felt angry and small. I will remember that for a while.
On the other hand, I remember while babysitting as a teenager, breaking a silver pitcher that belonged to the family. I was so afraid the mother of the children would be angry at me. When I told her what happened, she said, “I am not angry, I love you so much more than this pitcher.” I will never forget that I felt loved and valued.
Paying attention to how our actions affect others is a way to guard ourselves from spiritual apathy. Spiritual carelessness is a way to produce reckless behaviors towards others. Apathy is a sign that something deep within needs attention. Spiritual disciplines can lead to a more fulfilling life.
Printed in the March 7, 2013 edition