Way, way back, even before he joined us here at Patriactionary, ElectricAngel recommended, for us Patriactionaries and our fellow travellers, three books written by Catholic writer John Zmirak, one of them being “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins”. More recently, he repeated to me his recommendation of that one, and offered to buy me a copy, in exchange for me doing a book review on it, to which I agreed.
As ElectricAngel pointed out, “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins” is a compilation of Zmirak’s columns for Crisis Magazine. The subject matter is indeed the ‘seven deadly sins’ (lust, wrath, gluttony, greed, sloth, vainglory, and envy), but also, paired with each of them, the contrary ‘seven virtues’ (chastity, patience, temperance, generosity, diligence, humility, and magnanimity), which are not, as Zmirak points out in his introduction, opposites of the vices, but midpoints between opposite ‘neuroses’, as we might label them; for example, the opposite of vice is not chastity, but rather frigidity, while chastity is a balanced, moderate path that allows for healthy expression of sexuality within the God-ordained confines of marriage, rather than either extreme of, on the one hand, unbridled hedonism, or on the other hand, ascetic-like denial even within marriage, in which someone afraid of their sexuality to the point of ‘frigidity’ can rightly be accused of engaging. (The seven neuroses Zmirak names as frigidity, servility, insensibility, prodigality, fanaticism, scrupulosity, and pusillanimity.)
So Zmirak pairs each chapter discussing a particular vice, with one discussing the contrary virtue (and some discussion of the extremes in going too far the other way, as well). At the end of each second chapter, he offers a quiz for self-examination, and offers some suggestions for those finding themselves struggling with the vice in question, strategies for fighting such tendencies.
Zmirak is a witty New Yorker, full of wisecracks and great stories, and his book does read like a collection of magazine articles – and I mean that as a compliment, in that the reading flows easily and briskly, but is also stimulating and thought-provoking – and convicting, as his anecdotes will awaken recognition in oneself, of one’s own failings. But this is not a gloomy tome; rather, it manages to maintain a fairly cheerful tone throughout, notwithstanding its detailings of much ugliness. And throughout, Zmirak’s great sense of humour is on display.
I read through this book in basically two sittings, and I enjoyed it very much. The appendices at the end contain excerpts from his two other books, respectively, which look to be as much fun as this one was.
Now, Zmirak’s audience is mostly fellow traditionalist Roman Catholics like himself, but there really isn’t much in here that I found particularly objectionable, as a Protestant, brushing aside some Team Rome partisanship, same as I do when I read Chesterton, for instance. And while we Protestants may not make official distinctions between different kinds of sin, we certainly condemn the vices of lust, wrath, gluttony, greed, sloth, vainglory, and envy just as much as Catholics do, and also would encourage the virtues of chastity, patience, temperance, generosity, diligence, humility, and magnanimity. So I certainly recommend “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins” to fellow traditionalist Christians of all stripes, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox.