Aviad KLEINBERG, The 7 Deadly Sins: A Very Partial List. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008. Pp. 191. $22.95 hb. ISBN-13: 978-0-674-03141-8.
Reviewed by Alexander ANDUJAR, Saint Leo University, Dade City, FL 33574

One part psycho-social moral analysis, one part satirical commentary with a dash of postmodern commentary added for flavor, The 7 Deadly Sins: A Very Partial List by Aviad Kleinberg purports a new spin on the accepted concepts of sin. Interweaving historical commentary, biblical exegesis, and personal experience, Kleinberg adeptly presents what he dubs a partial list of the seven deadly sins. Throughout the work he turns the accepted notions of sin and vice on their proverbial heads by challenging their historical and religious roots as well as introducing an elements of cultural relativism.

While brief, The 7 Deadly Sins offers unique insights into the modern moral discussions taking place at the personal, religious, cultural, and societal levels. Each sin is awarded its own chapter and its own area of analysis. Kleinberg begins by examining the biblical origins of sin and the relationship between man and God in light of sin. He questions the nature of manís free will from creation to the formation of religion and other institutions to govern manís moral behavior. Kleinberg concludes by offering one more grievous sin to the list, self-righteousness. Here he directly questions the authority of those who consider themselves to be morally superior and able to judge or educate others in the moral life.

The readers first reaction to this book may be offense or confusion, as they attempt to discern the author's belief system and through that his approach to sin. But Kleinberg proves elusive, displaying repentance and humanity concerning his own moral decisions on the one hand and an attitude that questions the very concepts of God, his authority, and his morality on the other. Though it is tempting to make the authorís faith a central point of analysis for this work, comprehending his faith is not essential to engaging his thesis.

Ultimately, the lesson Kleinberg desires to impart is that our very concept of sin is understood first and foremost by the culture and social atmosphere into which we are born. If we ignore this we lose an important insight into history, society and the human condition. Morality descends into a set of rules instead of the desire for perfection. However, Kleinbergís approach floats dangerously close to relativism for the less than careful reader who does not appreciate his brand of humor.

In the end the author does present sin as negative but ultimately calls into question the way in which religion, culture, and civilization has defined sin and its role in the moral life. For Kleinberg, moral behavior is not adhering to long held traditions concerning gluttony or lust but rather discerning the consequences of oneís actions in the context of society and interpersonal relationships. One need not be the Pope to be holy. In fact itís probably easier if you arenít.

Students of Catholic moral theology will find this book an excellent jumping off point for discussions on moral relativism and the postmodern view of morality. Undergraduate students who have some background in the Catholic Churchís formation and understanding of the 7 deadly sins will benefit from engaging in a discussion with a modern authorís view of sin and vice. Graduate students in particular will benefit from a careful reading of this book and the choice of its references for each chapter. Kleinberg carefully selects his approach to each sin, how it has been perceived in history and how it should be seen in the modern age. The 7 Deadly Sins is an excellent contrast to accepted Catholic moral teaching, not because it is heretical but because it is inherently human.


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