retail news in context, analysis with attitude

seven behaviors now classified as mortal sins.

“The seven sins are meant to supplement the old ‘seven deadly sins’ - sloth, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath and pride – which the Vatican views as being individualistic as opposed to the new list, which is seen as having social resonance.

“The other six mortal sins on the new list include pollution, drug abuse, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice and poverty, and becoming obscenely wealthy.

“The Church also said that it remains concerned about issues such as abortion and pedophilia, which remain mortal sins.

“In the Catholic Church, a mortal sin is defined as a ‘grave violation of God's law’ that can bring about eternal damnation if the person committing the sin does not repent.”

And I commented, in part:

First, the fact that the use of GMOs makes the Vatican’s list means that this debate – which hasn’t been a huge issue in the US, not nearly as big as it has been in Europe – probably is going to get more heated and will move center stage. Does this mean that people who work for Monsanto are going to hell? Or that retailers who sell products created through the use of genetically engineered ingredients are facing eternal damnation? Perhaps…and if one is a practicing and dedicated Catholic (admittedly a shrinking group these days), one will have to at least consider these possibilities.

Unless, of course, people don't take it seriously and see the Vatican statement as an example of the church being out of touch with modern realities.

Second, it seems ironic that just yesterday, Reuters had a story (posted before the Vatican comments became public) about how one small Mexican farmer has been harvesting genetically modified corn that has been resistant to pests and requiring less water to keep alive. The crop technically is illegal in Mexico because of concerns that the GM seed will contaminate traditional seeds, but supporters say that the GM corn will both help feed hungry people as well as make Mexico less dependent on imported corn.

Is trying to feed your family and achieve economic independence a mortal sin? Not where I’m coming from, not if we’re talking about the use of science in responsible ways.

Now, I concede that this is a complicated issue, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about GM foods. But it seems utterly wrong to dismiss the possibilities that GM technologies might offer to people who are hungry and poor and in desperate need of hope. But the Catholic Church hasn’t just dismissed it…it has labeled genetic modification as being the same as pedophilia.

Is it any wonder that for a lot of people, organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, have lost much of their moral authority?

I’m repeating so much of the story and the commentary for those who may have missed it…and because the context is necessary to understand many of the emails that I received. The criticisms seemed to focus on two issues – that I misunderstood the Vatican position, and that I was indulging in needless and inappropriate Catholic bashing.

One MNB user wrote:

Kevin, your take on the Vatican's GMO stance was a little disturbing for me. I do not read your website daily for rantings about Catholicism (or any religion). I would appreciate it if you would refrain from such exaggerated discourse moving forward.

Obviously, religion is the third rail and often a taboo subject because of people's beliefs and feels - religion is very personal, likely one of the most personal things in someone's life (if they choose to be a person of faith - any faith). We could go on and on about the Vatican and beat it down for some perceived "odd" principles or can interpret anything in a million different ways. You chose to interpret it one way and I disagree with that interpretation, which is fine. But do know this about the Catholic Church, they admit that the Church is fallible. Some of their stances have proved to be fallible. Just like any organization or faith they must use time as the measure of certain policies and adjust accordingly.

With regards to GMO being a mortal sin (like greed, gluttony, et al) I think you are short sighted in your view. My interpretation is that these with "Deadly Sins" we all are likely to be guilty of at some point (or many points) in our lives. They are there for us Catholics to remind us that we should be aware of how we live our lives and make sure that we do not make a habit of using these items (sins) all of the time in our lives to the detriment of ourselves and society. For instance, gluttony. This does not mean you can't pig out at a buffet! This means to me that I should make a habit out of eating enough to satisfy my needs but ensuring those around me have enough to eat, as well. Greed does not mean you can't make money. To me it means that I should be aware of the needs of those around you and be a giving soul. If you let greed consume all of you then you forsake your neighbor and your neighbor's needs.

When it comes to GMO I do not believe the Vatican says you cannot do GMO foods. The way I interpret it is by stating that we should not always look to science to fix our problems. By going overboard with GMO's we will start manipulating fetus', weather, our bodies, our emotions. Granted good things will/might come out of GMO's but these deadly sins for me symbolize (as a Catholic) items that I should be aware of that don't become all encompassing means of living my life.

MNB user Mary Mendenhall wrote:

Your daily dose of wit and insight turned a bit misguided and I daresay ugly this morning with your misleading take on the Vatican’s revisions of the “Seven Deadly Sins” list. The new additions to the list (namely drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia, pollution of the environment, causing social injustice, being obscenely rich and genetic engineering, the last of which drew your attention most) seek to point out the “social resonance” of sins in our society.

Two points about your piece amazed me: First, for a man that regularly, and with what seems like daily consistency, extols the use of the much-praised reusable bag, you have nothing to say about the “pollution of the environment” now being deemed a serious, grave sin. One of the largest world religious fully condemns the pollution of the environment, and you make no comment? Odd.

Second—I’m not sure how you inferred that the practice “genetic engineering” was so pointedly related to GMOs. Could the Church maybe have been referring to the genetic manipulation of human embryos for cloning advances? Or the harvesting of human embryos for cloning and embryonic stem cell research? Or any of the offenses against the basic rights of humans through genetic manipulation that the Church recognizes? One would think that the Vatican would have been pointing to these cases of genetic engineering, and not a Mexican farmer’s GM corn, as you strangely infer. Just a guess.

I’m a practicing Catholic—and if I counted on your analysis as even somewhat correct, I’d have to consider myself one of the remaining believers in a dying, faltering religion, near it’s breaking point. That makes me laugh a little. As a new reader to your editorials, I’m hoping that your daily analysis on other topics is not one-sided as this.

MNB user Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

As a 'recovering' Catholic, the thing that made me uneasiest about the Vatican's stance is that I agree with them. And sorry, I don't buy the argument that GMOs will feed the world. Perhaps in the short term, but long term ramifications are unknown. We've already winnowed down the diversity of our crops due to selective breeding and planting mono cultures. Now we should do it by 'manufacturing' new plants, planting them as mono-crops and waiting to see what happens? Oh wait, we're already doing that, and guess what? Most of the non-GMO crops are being contaminated by GMOs.

Truly, when will Americans, yes Americans, wake up and realize that our nations food supply and environment is controlled by chemical companies?

rBGH is safe and great for cows and feeding the masses, right?

The personal side effects of the drugs we've been sold by big drug companies aren't bad everyone gets to enjoy them in their drinking water.

Antibiotics are safe to use on our livestock. Cattle do just fine on a grain based diet. The list goes on.

Ultimately how we treat our world and food supply including the animals we eat is a pretty good yardstick of our nation's moral health. And what I see isn't pretty.

Hey, Soylent Green would feed the world too, but that doesn't make it right.

Another MNB user wrote:

We have food available for everybody...even without GMOs. GMOs will not fix global apathy to starvation, will not fix delivery problems, will not fix political crap, etc. Please do not use "feeding the starving people of the world" as justification for GMOs.

For example - we have surplus food in the Pacific Northwest...yet thousands of our children, elderly and fragile citizens are starving...starvation is not about GMOs...its about not caring...and GMOs will not cure apathy.

MNB user Marty Ramos wrote:

Simply disappointed about…your diatribe on the Catholic church. You take an article that has obviously twisted the statements of an Archbishop (no, not the Pope) and use it as a vehicle to voice your latent, pent-up feelings about the Church. There’s so much to object to in this article, none of which is pertinent as to the reason I read it...please, don’t use your column as a vehicle to voice your religious (and incorrect) views on your readers.

Understand also, that the Catholic Church is not shrinking, but actually growing…

I enjoy your news recap when it focuses on our business issues…I will continue to read but, that said, will not hold you in the same esteem as I once did.

MNB user Judy A. Riesbeck wrote:

I hope that Morning News Beat does not become a forum for morality issues and attacking the Catholic Church or any other religion.

Another MNB user wrote:

You and much of the press have the interpretation of Monsignor Girotti’s interview with L’Osservatore Romano all wrong.

Monsignor was giving an interview about the necessity of confession for all Roman Catholics. At the tail end of the interview he mentioned what he believes are new forms of social sin in the modern era. Monsignor is not rewriting the Catholic definition of mortal sins. He does not have the authority to do that. He is not suggesting that GMO’s and pollution are more serious than mortal sins like abortion or sexual abuse. Monsignor was giving a personal opinion of what he perceives as modern sins. Just because the interview appeared in the Vatican newspaper does not mean that the Roman Catholic Church now holds as doctrine what Monsignor said or that the Pope agrees with him or that Catholics have to agree with what he just said. What Monsignor said about modern sin is not suddenly now doctrine. Monsignor did not suggest that it is.

But, as with many in the press, you seem to take any opportunity you think you can to bash the Roman Catholic Church. I’m disappointed in you.

Another MNB user chimed in:

I am so very pleased that you covered the possible shortcomings of the Catholic Church in today's article. I never knew your column covered the differences of venial and mortal sins and perhaps what the Church describes them to be. An old wise priest once told me that God figures it all out in the end if we are lucky enough to meet him someday. I would like to think that the Catholic Church may have some other doctrine or practices that may be helpful to mankind and that you would also perhaps focus your attention on those in some future column. It seems I hear potshots coming from those who were at onetime a Catholic who may have been beaten up by a nun or two in their day.

I'm not sure you were once a member of the Catholic Church or not; but it seems to me that because of their stance on certain things or the "rules" of the doctrine, that they become an easy target. I am sure you have the numbers you mention in your column regarding the Catholic Church as " a shrinking group these days". I didn't hear that but I may be wrong.

I try not to discuss politics or religion with my friends and siblings because it always ends up with someone being hurt or just pissed off. So I won't get into that today. Jesus said feed the hungry. He didn't say how. Every morning I click on your column and read what you have got for me for that day about this industry I have been a part of for 38 years. Informative; Well written; up to date.

If I were you Kevin I would stick to your bread and butter. You do a great job at it by the way. Leave Religion out of it, for you never know, it may be committing a mortal sin.

MNB user Jim Hornecker wrote:

Kevin, this one is for the Dept of Corrections. The Vatican wasn't formulating a new list of the Seven Deadly Sins. And GMO's weren't one of them.

Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti was being interviewed by the Vatican's newspaper and was asked about new forms of sin in an era of globalization and the current social context. He did discuss certain ways people sin - and they weren't all denominated "mortal sins". The idea was to give people more food for thought for Confession rather than to do some re-branding of sin.

But the reference to genetic manipulation had zero to do with agriculture. It referred to ways that some scientists try to modify the genes of human embryos so that they have certain traits and not others. The Vatican has frequently criticized efforts to become the manufacturers of people and trying to determine what physical traits and conditions makes a person "worthy of life". This isn't really a new sin. Adolf Hitler and Margaret Sanger were proponents of eugenics and thought humanity needed to be rid of "lesser" races and people with disabilities, etc. And various peoples throughout history have done the same. And the Church has always condemned this sort of thing. It's just that now scientific advancement has been able to accomplish these things in a less bloody fashion - genetic manipulation. Monsanto wasn't being condemned.

I hope you issue a correction despite your obviously low opinion of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Let me be clear about one thing up front as I formulate a response to some passionate and entirely reasonable criticisms…

When I started MNB more than six years ago, the entire point was that I was going to talk about issues and topics that most people in my position would be reluctant or afraid to address. Sometimes they would be about business issues, sometimes on cultural issues, and, I was going to take positions, even if they made me unpopular and even, on occasion, resulted in lost readership.

So I have staked out positions on issues ranging from the Plan B birth control pill to the use of screw tops on wine bottles, from the need for greater transparency in the industry to my favorite restaurants in places like Seattle and San Francisco. The point is to be appropriately provocative, and to be willing to take the heat – and be public about it – when people disagree with me. And, quite frankly, I’m willing to rant about almost anything…and while a connection to business is important, it isn’t always necessary.

Sure, religion is always risky to talk about. (And this hardly is the first time that it has come up … though it may seem that way to new readers.) But there are times when religious beliefs and questions of morality do play a role in how business is transacted, and it is worth talking about. Such a case was yesterday.

My reading of the news stories, which suggested that any genetic manipulation is a sin, was confirmed by other people who read the same and other stories. And while the correspondents above are right that a line was being drawn between genetic manipulation and human experimentation, I remain unconvinced that the Vatican is pro-science and would support GMOs.

By the way, that’s the Vatican’s right. What I was questioning – and probably in a way that transcended the GMO issue – was the definition of sin. (This will probably open up a whole other can of worms, but what the hell.)

I’m not sure that it is fair to say that people who try to figure out cloning – even human cloning – are sinners. Their motivations are not necessarily nefarious…these may be people who are compelled to figure out what is possible from a scientific point of view, to actually use (in a phrase my mother used to utter with regularity, if in a different context) “the brains God gave them.”

Cloning and genetic manipulation may be good for the planet, or may be bad. It may be smart, it could ultimately be a mistake. But a sin? I have trouble with that.

Nevertheless, I will say that the emails above, and plenty of others that I received criticizing me (some of them in less than elegant language suggesting that I could be facing an unpleasant eternity of considerable warmth), did make me think. About the GMO issue and cloning. About the role of religion in public and private life. And even about my own beliefs. I’m not sure my mind has been changed, nor my cynicism leavened. But I’m thinking. And maybe, now, some other people are as well.

As far as being anti-Catholic, I will admit to three things. First, as a former altar boy, I have some familiarity with Catholicism. Second, I bear my share of scars from that familiarity (and while these scars certainly shape my opinions, they do not make my opinions unjustified nor inappropriate). Third – and this is most important – I am no more skeptical about the Catholic Church than I am about any other organized institution…whether religious, governmental, social, or otherwise. I suspect that this abiding skepticism seeps through much of what I write…and hopefully, more often than not, it will at least create a climate for discussion and debate.

One final point to address another criticism. The Washington Post> recently carried a story that read, in part:

“America has always been a competitive religious marketplace, but a major survey released yesterday shows a country increasingly exploring different faith identities and ways of worship. More than 40 percent of respondents told pollsters that they had changed their religious affiliation since childhood … Conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the survey confirms on a grand scale trends that demographers have noted for years: the slipping percentage of Protestants, now down to 51, and the rise of people who call themselves unaffiliated, now at 16 percent, up from similar surveys.

“The survey also lays out, just weeks before Pope Benedict XVI's first papal visit to the United States, the Catholic Church's challenge here: no American faith group has lost more adherents. Among U.S. adults, about the same percentage -- 24 -- call themselves Catholic as in the past, but that statistic masks significant turnover. The percentage has held up primarily because of the huge number of recent Latino immigrants, who are largely Catholic, the survey found. Sixty-eight percent of people raised Catholic still identify with their childhood denomination, compared with 80 percent of Protestants and 76 percent of Jews.”

This doesn’t sound to me like the church is growing…but we can agree to disagree.

As long as we keep talking. And, perhaps more important, listening.

KC's View: