I recently read an article in a popular magazine that argued that our virtues can be, in essence, bad. In other words, that each of our virtues contains within it a vice when taken too far, such as humility becoming passivity. What is your take?
I am familiar with the article and the theme. Ironically, another popular psychology-themed magazine had a similar headline about using the seven deadly sins as a source of strength. The two themes are so well connected that addressing both of them may provide insight. Let me begin by saying that the stance these writers take is not new. It is, in fact, a bit tired, although there are references to current "research" that supports their point of view.
It has long been known that lying, cheating and stealing — let alone overall brutal domination — have given rise to very powerful people — in worldly terms, "success." But to anyone with an active conscience, this is destructive and the ultimate form of failure.
The problem with this type of writing is that it requires changing definitions in order to make the hypotheses viable. This can be illustrated by the fact that such writing calls an overactive (my term) virtue a vice, when, in reality, it is simply a vice: False humility is not humility at all; it is pride. False prudence is not prudence; it is stupidity. And so on and so forth.
Many of these articles are written with very deliberate agendas. In fact, one of the articles I read recently listed the "history of sin" and then showed a scholarly-looking timeline that was so filled with poppycock that it was maddening. So my advice is: Read the classic writings of great saints and doctors of the Church who articulate the faith and human nature in the fullness of the truth.
As human beings, we all struggle with vice, but we all have access to virtue. Our hardwired, God-given temperaments make certain virtues easier for some of us to acquire, while certain vices are more difficult to control. For example, a person may not often struggle with sloth, but he may often battle the type of pride that makes him feel he is always right.
It is paramount for good Catholics to be self-aware. Routine confessions proceeded by thorough examinations of conscience and spiritual direction are sure-fire ways to master one’s interior life and regulate the battle between virtue and vice.
One of the reasons that I love our Catholic faith is that we, as Catholics, accept the complexity of sin. We understand that culpability can be a factor that raises or lowers our participation in certain actions. That fact, however, can lead to self-justification — and therefore muddy our judgment. That is why it is important to also know that good is good and evil is evil. Society confuses this issue in popular culture and media that showcase "heroes" with terrible vices that are seen as "good." Stay grounded, and don’t be deceived by such things (or articles).
Catholic business consultant
Dave Durand is online at