Mahatma Gandhi’s List of the 7 Social Sins; or Tips on How to Avoid Living the Bad Life

gandhi-social-sins

In 590 AD, Pope Gregory I unveiled a list of the Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride – as a way to keep the flock from straying into the thorny fields of ungodliness. These days though, for all but the most devout, Pope Gregory’s list seems less like a means to moral behavior than a description of cable TV programming.

So instead, let’s look to one of the saints of the 20th Century — Mahatma Gandhi. On October 22, 1925, Gandhi published a list he called the Seven Social Sins in his weekly newspaper Young India.

  • Politics without principles.
  • Wealth without work.
  • Pleasure without conscience.
  • Knowledge without character.
  • Commerce without morality.
  • Science without humanity.
  • Worship without sacrifice.

The list sprung from a correspondence that Gandhi had with someone only identified as a “fair friend.” He published the list without commentary save for the following line: “Naturally, the friend does not want the readers to know these things merely through the intellect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them.”

Unlike the Catholic Church’s list, Gandhi’s list is expressly focused on the conduct of the individual in society. Gandhi preached non-violence and interdependence and every single one of these sins are examples of selfishness winning out over the common good.

It’s also a list that, if fully absorbed, will make the folks over at the US Chamber of Commerce and Ayn Rand Institute itch. After all, “Wealth without work,” is a pretty accurate description of America’s 1%. (Investments ain’t work. Ask Thomas Piketty.) “Commerce without morality” sounds a lot like every single oil company out there and “knowledge without character” describes half the hacks on cable news. “Politics without principles” describes the other half.

In 1947, Gandhi gave his fifth grandson, Arun Gandhi, a slip of paper with this same list on it, saying that it contained “the seven blunders that human society commits, and that cause all the violence.” The next day, Arun returned to his home in South Africa. Three months later, Gandhi was shot to death by a Hindu extremist.

Related Content:

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.


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  • LV Agorist says:

    Knowledge without understanding is more apt, and commerce without morality could be best reworked into trade without mutual benefit. Gandhi penned these words nearly 90 years ago, and that world has passed. Today’s society is more interconnected than ever, far more than in Gandhi’s time.

    It’s a shame the author took the opportunity to promote ideologies that don’t align with Gandhi, like the oft-refutted Marxist Piketty and his anti-capitalist views that even Gandhi avoided.

    The economic troubles that leftists like Piketty focus on are often the result of state-capitalism, where politicians pick industry winners rather than allowing the consumers to choose the winner through the free market. Corporations (a legal fiction created by the state) then funnel money back into politics and pick politicians that are friendly to the corporations.

    Yet no one seems to recognize the unlikelihood that this relationship could ever produce anything beneficial for the individual that is often being fleeced through taxation.

    Wealth without work? Perhaps, but profit at the cost of others without their consent would be more likely to have been in Gandhi’s mind if he lived today. And he wouldn’t have been so quick to vote for one career politicians after another, he’d have been protesting against bad policy, not supporting whatever policy a given party promoted. That is the lack of consciousness which leads to many of these social sins.

  • Hanoch says:

    “‘Wealth without work,’ is a pretty accurate description of America’s 1%.”

    I think you are on shaky ground here. To make the top 1% of earners, a household needs to bring in roughly $400K/year. I’d bet that for a very large percentage of such households, they are working pretty hard for it.

  • DBS says:

    Which one(s) describes you Jonathan?

  • Hetty says:

    Seems all of these sins can be applied to politicians, corporations and the people running them. The planet is being destroyed by many, but the policy makers and big companies are the biggest problem here. Principles and morals, sharing and caring are not on the human agenda, were they ever? Its almost a fight of good against evil and I think we know which is winning. Brrrrr.

  • Theresa says:

    Apparently Gandhi borrowed these from Frederick Lewis Donaldson who called them the seven social sins. This was from a sermon given on March 20, 1925 by Frederick Lewis Donaldson in Westminster Abbey and published on April 1.

    http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/32234-the-seven-social-sins-are-wealth-without-work-pleasure-without

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