Thou shalt not ... forget to recycle

Barry Gottlieb, the author of "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" writes at

There’s nothing like the Easter season to resurrect religious news.

First the Vatican launched a PR campaign to convince people that the Inquisition wasn’t really as bad as it appeared to be by opening an exhibit of artifacts it says will “expose some myths” about the church’s glory days during the Middle Ages. Hey, it was a bunch of guys kidding around and having a good time. So it went a little too far. Haven’t you ever been to a frat party?

Maybe they have a point. I mean, it’s not like they were waterboarding, you know.


Then earlier this month, in an interview in the Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano (motto: “All the news God thinks is fit to print”), Msgr. Gianfranco Girotti, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary -- the office that deals with sins and penance -- added some new sins to the already long list of life’s “don’ts.” He announced that pollution, mind-damaging drugs, genetic experiments and the accumulation of excess wealth are now all sins. Luckily, filling a cathedral with incense, drinking sacramental wine and raking in bucks from parishioners are exempt.

This isn’t the first time in recent history the Vatican has issued rules to live by. About a year ago, it released the Ten Commandments for drivers -- formal name, “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road” -- which warned us away from road rage, drunk driving, rude gestures, cursing and having sex in the car. Luckily it didn’t say anything about not driving while sending a text message, reading the newspaper, combing your hair or retrieving a burrito that rolled under the seat, so at least we don’t have to change all of our driving habits.

The question is, why do they need to add new sins? After all, we have plenty of old ones to choose from. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to think that many of us have even begun to tap the depths of a list that includes greed, envy, sloth, murder and astrology.

They might be adding the new sins to make sure we’re aware of all the things we’re not supposed to do, though I’d be surprised to learn that anyone who didn’t already realize pollution was bad would be swayed by a monsignor’s labeling it as a sin. On the other hand, if the threat of eternity in hell will make someone stop dumping chemicals in the water supply, quit spewing carcinogenic smoke or go out and buy a Prius, then I’m all for it.

I suspect the real reason the church is doing this is to attempt to be hip and stay up to date. It does that from time to time. One year it dumps Latin so people can actually understand what’s going on; the next it sets “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” to Green Day’s music and plays it on an autoharp during Mass.

Since a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith in the United States, it obviously needs to start doing something to keep people on board. And what better way than to add green sins to the list of cardinal, mortal and venial ones?

“Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It has been since the second quarter of the last fiscal year that I gave my last confession. These are my sins. I talked back to my mother. I also smoked pot, didn’t recycle three bottles and one can, and made a killing by buying all the neighbors’ houses at foreclosure and flipping them.”

Three Our Fathers, two Hail Marys and one Forgive Me Sierra Club and all will be well with our karma again.

If the church really wants to be hip, it would unveil Catholic Church 2.0, with social networking sites like MyPew and Faithbook, and a virtual online world called AfterLife (motto: “When your Second Life is over”). When it does, be careful about spending too much time in front of the computer.

You might be accused of worshiping a false idol.