Sinning: A Tacky Floor Show

Moore and "Lust" (Welch)

There’s a funny scene in the original Bedazzled (the 1967 film with Dudley Moore, not the one with Adam Sandler) where Moore, having sold his soul to the devil, is watching a particularly tawdry floor show in a seedy bar where he can’t get good service.  As I recall the film, the seven deadly sins are either serving as waiters or as entertainers (for instance, Raquel Welch is doing a tacky dance number as Lust).  When Moore complains, the devil explains, “What terrible sins I have working for me. I suppose it’s the wages.”

The line is a witty allusion to a sentence in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “The wages of sin are death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”   The reference reveals the film’s greater point: sinning offers us no genuine pleasure.  The dirty secret about selling our souls to the devil is that we get so little in return.

In yesterday’s invitation to try your hand at sinning, I promised to provide Doctor Faustus’s conversation with the seven deadly sins.  Here it is:

Faust.  What art thou—the first?
Pride.  I am Pride. I disdain to have any parents. I am like to Ovid’s flea: I can creep into every corner of a wench; sometimes, like a periwig, I sit upon her brow; or like a fan of feathers, I kiss her lips; indeed I do—what do I not? But, fie, what a scent is here! I’ll not speak another word, except the ground were perfum’d, and covered with cloth of arras.
Faust.  What art thou—the second?
Covet.  I am Covetousness, begotten of an old churl in an old leathern bag; and might I have my wish I would desire that this house and all the people in it were turn’d to gold, that I might lock you up in my good chest. O, my sweet gold!
Faust.  What art thou—the third?
Wrath.  I am Wrath. I had neither father nor mother: I leapt out of a lion’s mouth when I was scarce half an hour old; and ever since I have run up and down the world with this case of rapiers, wounding myself when I had nobody to fight withal. I was born in hell; and look to it, for some of you shall be my father.
Faust.  What art thou—the fourth?
Envy.  I am Envy, begotten of a chimney sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt. I am lean with seeing others eat. O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone! then thou should’st see how fat I would be. But must thou sit and I stand! Come down with a vengeance!
Faust.  Away, envious rascal! What art thou—the fifth?
Glut.  Who, I, sir? I am Gluttony. My parents are all dead, and the devil a penny they have left me, but a bare pension, and that is thirty meals a day and ten bevers—a small trifle to suffice nature. O, I come of a royal parentage! My grandfather was a Gammon of Bacon, my grandmother a Hogshead of Claret-wine; my godfathers were these, Peter Pickleherring, and Martin Martlemas-beef.  O, but my godmother, she was a jolly gentlewoman, and well beloved in every good town and city; her name was Mistress Margery Marchbeer. Now, Faustus, thou hast heard all my progeny, wilt thou bid me to supper?
Faust.  No, I’ll see thee hanged: thou wilt eat up all my victuals.
Glut.  Then the Devil choke thee!
Faust.  Choke thyself, glutton! Who art thou—the sixth?
Sloth.  I am Sloth. I was begotten on a sunny bank, where I have lain ever since; and you have done me great injury to bring me from thence: let me be carried thither again by Gluttony and Lechery. I’ll not speak another word for a king’s ransom.
Faust.  What are you, Mistress Minx, the seventh and last?
Lech.  Who, I, sir? I am one that loves an inch of raw mutton better than an ell of fried stockfish; and the first letter of my name begins with Lechery.
Luc.  Away to hell, to hell!—Now, Faustus, how dost thou like this?  [Exeunt the SINS.
Faust.  O, this feeds my soul!
Luc.  Tut, Faustus, in hell is all manner of delight.
Faust.  O might I see hell, and return again,
How happy were I then!

What Faustus doesn’t realize, although the devil’s henchman Mephistophilis has earlier informed him of it, is that he’s already in hell.  Or in the devil’s words, “Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.”  And later,

Hell hath no limits; nor is circumscribed
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.

Okay, so here’s the homework assignment I mentioned in yesterday’s post.  Taking your guidance from each of Marlowe’s deadly sins, practice sinning yourself.  Here’s the implied advice from each one:

Practice Pride, letting it creep into every corner of your being like a flea as you contemptuously gaze down at others.
Practice Covetousness, seeing others as so much gold that you can lock up in your chest—which is to say, merely as instruments to advance your interests.
Practice Wrath, running up and down the world wounding others with your rapier anger.  And when you don’t find someone else to be mad at, turn your anger against yourself and beat yourself up.
Practice Envy, becoming hungry to possess what others around you possess, perhaps even wishing ill on them and imagining that their misfortune might be your gain.
Practice Gluttony, piling up bacon upon claret wine upon pickled-herring upon holiday beef upon March beer.
Practice Sloth, spending all your time lying on a sunny bank (or better yet, sitting depressed and listless in front of your television).
Practice Lechery, seeking out “mutton” (Renaissance slang for lust and prostitutes) in real life or in images (say, on pornographic websites).

Doctor Faustus is a play that essentially calls Satan’s bluff.  Do we think we’d be happy if we had all the power we dreamed of?  Here’s a character who gets all the power he dreams of.  How happy does he seem?

In inviting you to participate in this sinning exercise, I’m inviting you to call Lucifer’s bluff in a similar way.  If you’re not deeply happy after having indulged in these sins, then you can start asking yourself what in fact will fulfill you.  Lenten reflection is about cutting through false pleasures.  If this exercise brings you clarity, then it may be worth it.

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